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Burning Man's bacchanal: Big ticket sales, big costs

reuters1

The annual revelry in the desert brings in millions of dollars, despite its anti-capitalist vibe.
by Verne Kopytoff for Fortune

Money is frowned on at Burning Man, the annual desert bacchanal that runs through Monday in Nevada. Participants are instead supposed to adhere to the festival’s feel-good philosophy of giving gifts like glow bracelets, sparklers, and vodka shots.

The group that puts on Burning Man, meanwhile, rakes in millions of dollars from selling tickets and parking passes to more than 60,000 attendees. It’s a complex operation with a full-time staff and a huge budget that dwarfs many big businesses.

Burning Man has long been led by its co-founder, Larry Harvey, who helped build it up from an informal gathering on San Francisco’s Baker Beach in 1986 to an international happening. Ostensibly, it’s an art event and free-zone for “radical self-expression.” In reality, the event’s vibe has morphed into a mix of flower power, around-the-clock rave, and Silicon Valley wheeling and dealing.

Earlier this year, Burning Man’s owners fulfilled a promise to place the event—long operated by a private company—under the control of a non-profit organization. The switch was partly intended to mollify critics who accused the organizers of hypocrisy for espousing an anti-corporate ethos while operating Burning Man as a business.

In a blog post, the organizers said the change would allow the event to survive beyond the lifetime of its owners. “Our mission has always been to serve the community,” they wrote, “and a non-profit public benefit corporation is the most socially responsible option to ensure and protect the future of Burning Man.”

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Trilo On Tickets: "The fundamental problem is not the lottery - it's scarcity."

Good perspective from the Burning Blog: “First, a bit of background information about me. I am the admin and lead moderator of Burning Man ePlaya, and work directly with the staff at Burning Man headquarters in both the ticketing and communications departments. I've been participating in Burning Man since 2004, and am the leader of a theme camp. Outside of Burning Man, I've got relevant experience in event production, system design, and logistics that dates back to the 1980's. The ideas and opinions expressed here are my own. I am not speaking for the organization, and I'm not toeing some company line - once I wrapped my head around the changes to the ticketing system I agreed with the need for change and think it's a pretty good system.

Setting The Stage
Prior to the 2011 event, Burning Man tickets was a fairly uncomplicated process. Just get a ticket at any point in the process of preparing yourself, your camp, or your art project. There were no scalpers, and face value was the most you'd ever have to pay. Then, on the 24th of July 2011, it got complicated for the very first time when tickets sold out. It seems a simple enough thing, but it's not. It put hundreds of camps and art projects at risk as they discovered that essential members of their group had not yet bought their ticket. Anecdotally, I think most who were determined to go were able to find a ticket. Some weren't, and others just made the decision to take the year off and not get caught up in the ticket madness.
It created a situation where it would be necessary to make big changes to the way tickets were sold in 2012. For starters, everyone who had gotten burned or had a close call vowed to buy tickets earlier next year. So did anyone who knew someone who'd gotten burned or had a close call. And a significant number of people decided that they should try and stock up on tickets for their art project or camp. And a sellout event put Burning Man on the radar of professional (as well as amateur) scalpers.
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Burning Man 2012 Tickets Part 3 frm Halcyon (aka "Crap or Cone?")

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ACT AS IF (or, Kant's Categorical Imperative and How Your Ticket Will Find You)

"Act as if the maxim of your action was to become through your will a universal law of nature." -- Immanuel Kant

You didn't get a ticket. You didn't get a ticket for your partner, friend, spouse or parent. After all these years of going to The Event In The Desert, you got that email. You know, the one that, more than possibly any and maybe all of your life's cumulative college application rejection letters, grad school rejection letters, breakups-via-email, post-interview-we're-gonna-pass letters, pink slips and denial of parole notifications came across as a rejection of you as a person.

How can this thing that has welcomed you when you were needing it most, transformed you into who you are now, been fertile field where your creativity has grown beyond measure...or been your hope and dream or best chance give you the middle finger....so callously, with such disregard to who you are and what it means to you?

I am not going to comment on the workings of the ticketing system, or if it is good or bad or evil, or what we should all do *instead* of burning man, now that "most of us" "didn't get" our ticket.

I will tell you, in four simple little words, how you will get your ticket. You ready?

BELIEVE. ACT AS IF.

You are going. You've got the time off work. You've submitted your art app, your theme camp is going full steam ahead. You've got $400 in cash or whatever in an envelope for your ticket. You tell everyone that you're going, you get the blinky stuff for your bike, you get a roof rack for the truck.

WORK YOUR SOCIAL NETWORK. You tell everyone that your ticket hasn't found you. But it will. You know it. No specific notion of how it will get to you, but it will find you. It wants you to find it.

DON'T PANIC This is Panic's high season, this is the time when it is the least likely that tickets will change hands. But between the STEP program and the open ticket sales coming up, a lot more people who sincerely believe that they're going to Burning Man will get tickets.

BE PATIENT. A week before the event, ticket prices will plunge. Most folks who need tickets will get them then. And damn near all of them will be people who believed that they were going, and acted as if they already had a ticket in hand.

So. Come to potluck. Act as if. Believe.

See you tonight.

Luckily yours,

Michael

Caveat: I might be full of shit. You might believe. You might not get a ticket. Your milage may vary. Items may not be as pictured. Measured by weight and not by volume. The camera adds ten pounds. Get your ass to potluck anyway.

Ticket Update: Rebuilding Black Rock City 2012




Posted by Maid Marian on the Burning Blog
Marian Goodell is a Founding Board Member of Black Rock City LLC, and Burning Man’s Director of Business and Communications.
THE CHALLENGE WE FACE: DEMAND OUTSTRIPS SUPPLY
We promised we would get back to you by February 15th with our plans to resolve the ticket situation for Burning Man 2012. We all know there aren’t enough tickets for everyone who wants to participate in Black Rock City. However, it’s clear that the current situation has created holes in our social fabric. Many of the core volunteers, major interactive camps, art car projects, performance groups, and funded and unfunded art projects do not have enough tickets to bring their works to the playa. Here’s how we will remedy these challenges as fairly as we believe possible:
1.) Burning Man organizers and staff will issue tickets to major theme camps and art projects using a process outlined below.
2.) We will launch the STEP program on February 29th. Only those who registered and did not receive confirmation of tickets will be given access to STEP.
3.) Low Income ticket applications will be accepted beginning February 29th.
There’s no way to sugarcoat this: the hard truth is that there are a lot of you who want to come to Black Rock City to celebrate your participation in the Burning Man culture this year, but not everyone will be able to attend. That sentence is about as painful to write as it is for you to read. We dearly wish we could just welcome everyone who feels drawn to Black Rock City. But, as we have explained in Andie Grace’s blog post: “Radical Inclusion, Meet the Other Nine,” it’s not possible to simply increase the number of tickets available for Burning Man 2012.
And unfortunately, the random draw of the Main Sale left inordinately large numbers of our core contributors — art teams, theme camp creators, mutant vehicle builders, performers, and Burning Man volunteers — without tickets. In fact, the ratio was so unexpectedly large it has punched significant holes in Black Rock City’s artistic, civic and functional infrastructure, putting the integrity of the event itself at risk. If we let market forces play out as they could with the remaining available tickets, it’s likely that Black Rock City would be functionally untenable for many of the collaborations that comprise our desert event.

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Ticket Update: Radical Inclusion, Meet the Other Nine



Posted by Andie Grace on
the Burning Blog

First things first:

For all the frustration, anxiety, stress, and heartache this year’s ticket lottery has caused, please accept another humble apology.

This is no time for issuing statements or putting a spin on anything. The system may have worked, but the cultural outcome sure didn’t, and even though some of you saw that coming and said so, we didn’t, and for that we are sorry.

The current trajectory is not acceptable. Even people who did get tickets aren’t cheering right now, since so many of their camps and friends are standing out in the cold. Entire groups are worried they’ll have to scrap all their plans. Burning Man is a participatory and collaborative event, and many collaborations are perilously close to falling apart.

Clearly we must reevaluate, but first we want to say more about what we’ve heard, how we got here, and what our next steps will be.

What we’re hearing:

Our office in San Francisco is awash in feedback. We have been meeting every day about tickets, and have burned the midnight oil poring over every available list and forum, logging and absorbing every email, complaint, and plea for information. We’re absolutely listening very carefully, and we are 100% clear that there’s a very big problem playing out.

What’s happening isn’t fun for anyone, and there’s no sugar coating to be put on it. Clearly, despite projections, the majority of the people who have previously built, created, contributed and participated – not just those who’ve been before, but who have created the foundations of Burning Man — don’t have a ticket to the event this year. And whether it was our naiveté or just underestimation, we didn’t see that coming at this scale, and we know it’s hurting us all now.

We understand and recognize the impact this is having – on individuals, on projects and collaborations, on your ability to plan vacation time, book plane tickets, submit applications for your camps, your art projects—everything about participating in Burning Man. We see the emotional response it’s causing – only too well, as we’re Burners at HQ too, and so are our friends, our campmates, our teammates, and our families. Watching this unfold has been painful. Each of us is responding differently – worrying, losing sleep, meeting through the evenings and weekends, throwing things, searching for answers…this is one of the most painful moments in our history.

What happens next will be pivotal – whatever is to blame, now that we’ve reached this point, we absolutely know we have to get this next moment right. We are all about to write the future of Burning Man.

Through our process of discovery and data analysis, we’ve heard from our whole community — including some experts we’ve never talked to before. In a lot of cases, we have asked for their consult; some of those helpful blogs and comments you’ve been forwarding to us have turned into meetings and phone calls, and we’re figuring out how else we can engage with a wider range of Burner minds to help guide our community through this.

How Did This Happen?
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YOUR THEME CAMP ISN'T THAT IMPORTANT .. and other thoughts.

by clerkkent » posted on ePlaya on Fri Feb 10, 2012 1:12 pm

Many people are posting about how their theme camp only got less than 25% of the 'needed' tickets for their entire camp to go, and now the camp might not go at all (insert dramatic music) with the tone of 'you'll miss us'. I have been 7 times, and I have yet to visit a theme camp where I said to myself “Man, if this theme camp isn't here next year, this entire city is going to hell!!”. There were scores of camps that were awesome and I enjoyed my time with them. I coordinate a small theme camp and we didn't attend in 2009.. that was the year there was a severe population decrease. You don't see me running around claiming that everyone stayed home because my theme camp didn't go.

Our small camp generally has no more than 15 members, and I would estimate we've had no more than 400 quality interactive guests (people who stopped by, conversated, played around) per year (and even that is on the high side). As a participant, I would guesstimate that I've actually interacted with maybe 40 theme camps each year (interacted = walked into their camp, introduced myself, talked with people, had a drink or snack, did whatever interactive activity their camp is known for,etc). I would guesstimate that on yearly average, I've had a quality conversation with around 500 BRC citizens per year. There's 50,000 people out there, and chances are you'll barely meet 1% !!

My point?
YOUR THEME CAMP ISN'T THAT IMPORTANT.

It is nice to have, but not a must have. Yes, you put a lot effort into it.. so did the 200 other theme camps, as well as the other 40,000 burners who dragged their arse to the Playa.

One issue with the current 'theme camps should get the remaining tickets' philosophy: If you're going to make theme camps deserving of special treatment, then theme camps are going to be under the microscope to ensure they justify the investment of tickets to those groups. There are some lame 'theme camps' out there.: The 'chill dome' camps. The annual 'I'm going to have a super kinky mega sexually charged sex camp' that talks a big game online, but delivers a few RVs and a few horny old guys on the playa. The “I'm going to have one painting on a post but request 5000 square feet for all the camp supporters” camps. The the 'Fortress of RVs' theme camp. There's been some camps where I walked by wondering “What the heck do they do, and why do they have so much prime real estate?”.. Some are just long in the tooth, and might benefit from a year off or merging with other camps.

If tickets are assigned to theme camps, you're gonna have a lot more griping than the current annual 'why did they get placed but we didn't?' mope-a-thon.
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more from Halcyon on the Burning Man ticket lottery fiasco

Burning Man ticket fiasco creates an uncertain future

http://www.sfbg.com/print/pixel_vision/2012/02/02/burning-man-ticket-fiasco-creates-uncertain-future

Is it the end of Burning Man as we know it? That's certainly the way things are looking to thousands of longtime burners who didn't get tickets when the results of a controversial new ticket lottery system were announced on Tuesday evening, particularly as big picture information emerged in online discussions yesterday.

Personally, I was awarded the maximum two tickets I requested at the $320 level (my sister already claimed the other, so don't even ask), but I'm feeling a little survivor's guilt as I hear from the vast majority of my burner friends who didn't get tickets. And if it wasn't already clear that scalpers have effectively gamed the new system, that became apparent yesterday when batches of up to eight tickets were listed for as much as $1,500 each on eBay and other online outlets.

As I've attended Burning Man since 2001 and covered it for the Guardian and my book,
The Tribes of Burning Man, I've become involved with many camps and collectives over the years. So over the last couple days, I've been privy to lots of online discussions and surveys, and it appears that only about a third of burners who registered for tickets actually received them (organizers have refused to say how many people registered for the 40,000 tickets sold this week, so it's tough to assess whether scalpers were more effective than burners at buying them).

The huge number of burners without tickets is a big problem for theme camps and art collectives that rely heavily on their members to pay dues and work long hours to prepare often elaborate camps, art cars, or installations, some of which are now in doubt. Many people are so frustrated that they've pledged not to attend this year, and even those of us that did get tickets are questioning whether we want to go if some of our favorite people aren't – particularly if they're replaced by rich newbies willing to spend a grand on a ticket.
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Halcyon on the Burning Man ticket lottery fiasco