It’s no secret that the Burning Man organizers have made a brand out of their festival. The branding, however, somehow defeats the purpose, as well as those illustrious principles it is based on. Its popularity and turnout have been increasing beyond expectation each year.
This past weekend, the organizers released the first batch of 3000 tickets, selling them at a premium price, “significantly higher” than regular, 4th tier price, at $650 per ticket (plus $20 shipping & handling). They announced that, for good measure, 3% from each sale is donated to an NGO that will help spread and “support the long term survival of the event and the culture”.
Long-time Burners will say that these high-cost tickets help subsidize the low-price tickets that are offered to low-income participants, which you can equate with higher taxing and social support, if it helps you understand the approach.
The discussions online are turning the blame to the organizers, who previously tried to prevent scalpers from re-selling tickets for much more than face-value, have now, in a way, done the same. Only now this is face-value. What the organizers have actually done is, realizing that people are prepared to pay more, cut out the scalpers and decided to take the profits directly.
But this is only going to set the bar really high. Because a higher price does not guarantee lower attendance. It is, simply, too popular for its own benefit. And it will be capped at about 60K attendees.
The allowable population of 2013 is still to be decided by the state of Nevada, so the organizers are betting oh high stakes: they are trying to sell as many tickets at higher prices as they can, so that the regular prices can just be ‘fillers’.
Those who did not buy the tickets this weekend are waiting for the regular sale to open in January, but a crowd of approximately 70K is awaiting the same. So, chances are, that a lot of people will be left out. The raffle system in 2012 certainly angered, frustrated and discouraged many, but there were also those who were not able to get a ticket at all – at any price – and, desperate to go, are ready to cash out the double fare for 2013.
Two years ago I paid $380, and the highest official price was $420, while the scalpers successfully sold them and people happily bought them for $800-1000 a piece.
Last year I did not win the coveted lottery and unsuccessfully tried to snatch one through the STEP, Secure Ticket Exchange Programme, which was set up to help people re-sell their extra tickets at face-value.
The regular ticket prices have not been announced yet but, as we have noticed them incrementally increasing each year, they will definitely be higher than in 2011 and 2012.
Reminder: the event is based on sharing, participation and contribution, which means that everyone who comes provides something – the content, the entertainment, the infrastructure, the cleanup (entirely volunteer-based).
Organizers have to submit a request for license based on attendance capacity to the state of Nevada each year, which determines the amount of people allowed to attend the festival, in order to try to still keep in sustainable. This is a requirement now, after it has soared from being – as regarded from the outside – an underground, alternative, ‘hippie’ event. Although, veteran Burners never look at it as such, as they consider this description condescending.
The question on everyone’s mind is: what are we paying for?
Although the ticket sales help pay for the permit, state fees, and portable toilets, they are still higher than other comparable festivals which have organized programs, infrastructure, and all the facilities. For example, the bathing water and the garbage must all be collected and disposed of by attendees themselves, outside the grounds (the nearby communities offer garbage collection and recycling at a fee).
Nothing is sold on the grounds except ice. All participants must ensure that they have sufficient water, food and adequate shelter to survive in the desert for the duration of their stay. Trading and sharing the resources is not only encouraged, but essential, in a way – an essential part of the overall experience.
No matter how you break it down, the costs are still hard to justify.
And that is just the first step. Additional costs per person for a 5-day attendance is generally $500-1000, often more. This includes water, food, camping gear, transportation, outfits, post-cleaning, etc.
Also, the higher ticket price will generally mean that the rest of the budget will have to adapt as well, such as less money for arts and the costumes. The basics will still get covered, but the extras – the actual things that make the whole experience more fun – will be flushed out. And so, in the end, it may just seem like a tourist gathering.
Should we just be looking at it as an expensive experience because it is unique?
Eventually, then, it will become an artificial community which is capable of looking both objectively and subjectively at the outside society trying to improve something in it. But does it? Or does it just show the civilization eventually turns very greedy. A pity, because some have argued that it already has lost its soul that way.
Having said all that, I still bought a ticket, even though I agree that it is incredibly expensive.
That’s another topic, but I believe, based on the past experience in the infamous desert, that the Burning Man culture is worth it. I felt inspired the last time, I wanted to contribute much more, and be a part of it again. I thought the experience was invaluable.