Have you heard of NOT ON AMAZON? It’s a Facebook e-commerce community for small independent retailers and artisans. It’s grown faster than ever over the past month. The Freelance Informer finds out why.
NOT ON AMAZON, an online community where artists and creatives promote and sell their goods, was set up by self-confessed internet newbie and multi-talented ‘Class War’ Punk Rocker, Jamie Rackham, in November 2020 — and less than a year on it already boasts over 146,000 members, NewsPage reported.
The number of ‘NOT ON AMAZONERS ‘ has grown faster than ever over the past month as the cost of living soars, NewsPage brought to our attention this week.
The reason behind the jump is that members can promote their businesses and advertise their work on the page at no cost — crucial given sharply rising energy bills, the higher cost of living more generally and tax rises to come. Members are then free to complete their deals however they choose to. NOT ON AMAZON doesn’t take a penny.
The thing is, The Freelance Informer finds the community’s concept and the personal story of its brainchild, Jamie Rackham, equally compelling. Nothing about Jamie or his community seems conventional. That is why we believe he has such a following.
Jamie, who lives in a lorry parked next to his rented workshop in the Forest of Dean, reportedly had zero experience of using social media until late last year. In fact, it was only when he posted some videos of an up-cycling project he was working on to his Facebook feed in October 2020, and got some great feedback from friends, that he started to spend more time on the social network.
His newfound use of social media came at a time when Amazon reported a quarterly net profit of $63 billion all thanks to third-party vendors, many of which are small independents. Jamie found the news “seriously disturbing” because at the time, self-employed artisans and retailers were closing shop left right and centre. To rub salt in the wound, the Chancellor of the Exchequer had proposed that artists and makers at the dawn of yet another lockdown should consider re-training if they wanted “secure incomes” moving forward.
At NOT ON AMAZON, our mission is to establish a new way of selling online where small businesses don’t have to pay large commissions to online marketplace owners. We call it decentralised ecommerce. We’ve managed to do this by using a platform that is already free in the form of Facebook. With energy bills soaring, the cost of living rising and tax rises to come, every penny counts.Jamie Rackham
Reflecting on the group, and his experience of the past year, Jamie says:
“I was completely unaware how many people needed a community like NOT ON AMAZON and how many people felt the same as I did about the current situation where ordinary people are struggling financially while billionaires take complete control of the planet’s resources, both real and virtual. At NOT ON AMAZON, we’re doing what we can to address this imbalance and show people that there is another way to do things. That way is decentralised e-commerce, which empowers small independents rather than profit from them. The next step is to use this group as a base to create a UK-wide network of local community action groups that can spread the message further and have a positive impact on the real world.
Putting care into freelancer communities
An example of the positive impact NOT ON AMAZON can have is when Jamie put out an appeal to members of the group for donations of their work for an online New Year’s Eve Charity Auction for the Bristol food bank, The Community Care Package. This was a great success and the 50 donated works sold for a total of £1,762 — enough to pay for more than 400 vegboxes.
Q&A: Jamie shares his future plans with The Freelance Informer
FI: Many people have business ideas, but rarely act on them. What compelled you personally to act and take that first step to set up the site?
Just before lockdown 1, I had been moonlighting in construction, and between March and August 2020 I was still looking for work. By the time August arrived, it was clear the jobs market wasn’t likely to pick back up any time soon so I took my last money and rented a workshop so I could start working on creative projects. My first project worked out well and by October I had a new product line, I posted some videos to my Facebook page and got a positive response so my jeweller girlfriend and I decided to see if we could do some Christmas markets.
The day after we made this decision lockdown 2 was announced. It was around this time that I coincidentally heard that Amazon had made their highest ever quarterly profit while all ‘non-essential’ retail outlets were closed by law. Honestly, that was the motivation for setting up the group.
I felt I had to do something to strengthen the position of the independent businesses that were being crushed by an unfair system and that building a group may help some of my personal friends and associates to keep their businesses afloat. It was more of a political statement than a business idea as such but weirdly managed to become a mixture of both in the end.
FI: Do you think if the COVID pandemic/lockdown never happened you would have launched the site?
It’s highly unlikely. The chain of events through lockdown, the murder of George Floyd and the ensuing debate over civil liberties, the way that social media became the world we all inhabited and the unprecedented syphoning of wealth from ordinary working people to a handful of technocrats all combined. I just had to act. Without all these factors I doubt I would have set up NOT ON AMAZON.
FI: Are you officially set up as a business now?
My long-term plan is to set up NOT ON AMAZON as a non-profit or CIC. Ideally, I’d like there to be two branches of the organisation, one of which is a support network for small creative businesses, the other being more politically based and calling for the current model of capitalism to change.
I know this is a strange mix of ideologies but I’m a creative before a businessman and that seems to be one of the reasons behind the success of the group.
FI: Other than yourself, who would you say has been instrumental in helping you get the site up and running and promoting the site to independent artisans and customers?
Incredibly there has been zero promotion. When I set the group up, I invited all my 250 Facebook friends and they invited all their friends and before we knew it, it had exploded. From the very beginning, we’ve grown through pure organic reach; people seem to be drawn to the name and the fact they instinctively understand it represents a certain set of values. Other than that, all the ‘planning’ and the vast bulk of the day-to-day work has been done by me. Luckily, I don’t have any dependents or high overheads, so I was able to devote all my time pretty much to this project when I realised it was working and I had a once-in-a-lifetime chance in front of me.
FI: While users of your site can post their profile and company web link for free to your site, do they contribute financially in some way to compensate you and the running of the site?
Since last December, we’ve run two separate purpose-specific crowd funders and in June we set up a page at buymeacoffee.com/NOTONAMAZON. Thankfully the members of the group have been generous enough that I’ve been able to just cover my living costs while working full time on this project and have also been able to give some money to the volunteer staff.
We also have a website at notonamazon.org, which is a directory of members’ businesses for which they pay a regular small subscription.
FI: The community is growing. How do you plan on funding the upkeep and growth of the site, your team, etc.?
So far, the model we have in place is absolutely fit for purpose. The people who are benefitting from the group’s existence are paying for it — there is no top-down system in place. All the regular funding routes we’ve explored seem closed to us because of our name but we won’t be changing it to get some coin from the financial systems we see ourselves as trying to break away from.
That’s the first shin-up the greasy pole to corporate control. Thankfully, apart from my twelve-hour days, everyone else works part-time around their existing schedules and they’re happy to volunteer and be part of what’s becoming recognised as a force for social change. We’re building a team of people who believe this is more of a cause than a business opportunity.
FI: Will you be building a bigger presence on Instagram? Pinterest?
The main thing we’re doing to build a bigger presence is moving offline and setting up a national network of regional NOT ON AMAZON community action groups. We think that bringing people together in real life is going to be the most effective way to empower small local businesses and get more people to think about where they spend their money.
This side project has really taken off and the group for my local area, The Forest of Dean, has already organised a ‘Mid-Winter Market’ with 24 stallholders, all members of the group who are in the same region but hadn’t connected before.
Maybe if we could get hold of someone who knew all the ins and outs of social media, we could expand our online presence but ultimately every click makes a billionaire richer so if we can move away from funding them that is much more aligned with our cause.
FI: What advice do you have for your community about preparing for the busy December holiday gift season? Should Freelance Informer readers start their holiday Not on Amazon shopping now?
Realistically we’re in uncharted waters there. Because we set up in the run-up to Christmas last year lots of people thought we were a ‘Christmas page’. This was something that didn’t really sit well with me, and I kept reinforcing the message ‘NOT ON AMAZON is for life, not just Christmas’.
Thankfully we made it through all the other seasons and welcomed 60,000 more members this year. My advice to our sellers would be “Keep your cool, we’re lucky our sellers are able to showcase their work and make sales all through the year.” To your readers, I’d say: “We’re not only here for Christmas, but you can also find incredible products available to buy directly from the makers all year round. Plus, we seem to enjoy far more social interaction around our posts than on a marketplace page so NOT ON AMAZON is as much a fun place to hang out and have some banter as anything else”
FI: If you listen to music while you work, what’s most likely to be playing on your radio/streaming on your laptop?
I used to work in audio production in Bristol from the 90s through to the 00s, so I like most things bass-heavy. RSD Bristol is a favourite on Mixcloud, and I also like Ramp-Up Radio. On the other end, I like a lot of the ‘new punk’ bands like Fontaines DC, Pozi, Future of the left and Sleaford Mods. Oh, and I can’t leave out System of A Down! If it’s not music, I was recently introduced to the Blindboy podcast which has given me a lot of insight so I’m currently working my way through four years’ worth of his back episodes.
Do you personally sell any of your merchandise or services (e.g., furniture, tutorials) on the site? If so, could you please share a weblink of your site?
Since starting the group I haven’t had any time to work on my own creative projects but that’s OK, I have
lots more opportunities for a different type of freeform creative thinking these days and as a creative project, the NOT ON AMAZON adventure has my head in an almost constant spin. We’ll be opening a Gallery/ Exhibition space next year, so I’ll have a collection in there… Watch this space!