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.

DSC_0128This 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).

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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.

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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.

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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.

Why?

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.

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the author

For Deja Dragovic travelling is a lifestyle. With every new journey she ups the challenge a bit: from meditating with Buddhist monks in the mountains of Japan, to exploring Rio's favelas on her own, to tribe-hopping in search of the uncontactable indigenous settlements of the Amazon. Quirky experiences, spontaneous local encounters, and ambitions are her inspirations for writing. But the road is her true confidant. Support her rebel cause at A Rebel With A Cause.

  • Jeff Zanini

    Awesome article on a fantastic event of social learning and the cultural niche that has been created. Can one really put a price on this experience? Not within reason!

  • http://www.facebook.com/profile.php?id=511042970 Mick Sonchin

    Really interesting article. I was just recently learned about this event. This article gave me a whole new perspective. Thank you so much for sharing!

  • Z the Mum

    Interesting perspective. It was good you had that experience once.

  • Vladimir

    Very interesting article. New and interesting information for us. Good luck.

  • doubLLe

    Great writing great photos as always keep up Deja

  • http://widism.com/ Clayton Elliott

    Great article Deja!

    I’ve read many articles on the wonderful, awe-inspiring place I now call “Home”, and this one is one of the top 5 for sure!

    I’ve only been burning for a couple years myself, but find the transformational experience is well worth the price of admission. I agree to some degree that the price should be lower, but there are also a number of year-round costs involved with putting on the event that you didn’t mention. The policing alone costs them over 200k each year, and I hear at last year’s event that in 2013 Gerlach County Sheriff’s Department would be raising it to 800k. Not to mention full-time and seasonal paid staff, legal teams, projects they donate to, taxes, etc. I would like to see the price of tickets come down for sure, but I am also curious exactly how much they’re in the black each year after the books are closed. Based on my rough calculations, they gross around $15,000,000 – $17,000,000 from ticket sales.

    And I’ve also heard from vet burner friends that it’s already not what it used to be. They never said it’s not great anymore, they just said that it’s changed a lot. And change is not inherently a bad thing. I think the message that spreads about it from those who attend is a good thing. The “Birgins” I went with last year said their experiences were personally and spiritually transformational and they had no point of reference from the “golden years” to compare it to. So maybe, like all the wonderful people who journey annually from far and wide to their home away from home, Burning Man just evolving and modernizing in a way as well. That’s the ruthless optimist in me talking :)

    I’ll be there this year with my caravan of friends and fam, and we should def try to connect on the playa! As hard as it can be to intentionally find someone there, it does happen.

    See you at home! :)

    • http://twitter.com/rebelonamission Deja Skitalica

      hey, thanks for the comment and filling in the missing information. I know the state fees have gone up, but you’re right – I didn’t know they had seasonal paid staff and that they had to pay policing costs.

      I’ve also heard vet burners say it has changed a lot – for the worse – but we all still keep on coming because there’s still a strong sense of community and it still feels home! But also, they have talked about the art becoming more spectacular, the diversity of all united on Playa, so changes can be good!

      keep in touch, then, and we’ll try to orchestrate a meet-up closer to the event!

      • http://widism.com/ Clayton Elliott

        Sounds good, Deja! I’ll tweet you when I know where we’re camping. Would be cool to connect on the Playa! Until then, keep sharing your rebellious cause with the world! :)

  • Sparkle*

    How about you do some more research before you write another article? In addition to paying the BLM a very fortuitous amount of money for using the space, in addition to paying countless law enforcement officers and medical personnel, a very substantial amount of money is given out as grants to support the art projects all around the playa.

    Thanks for your uninformed opinion though.

    • http://twitter.com/rebelonamission Deja Dragovic

      it has changed a lot, becoming too popular for its benefit. Please see: http://bit.ly/11stK7C

  • FabMe

    thank you for this article.
    I think Burning Man is one of the greatest destinations on Earth. I also think it is very pricy. I have applied for hardship ticket, as a single mother, artist, and some one who is having serious personal family challenges at this present time. I wrote a letter, perhaps not entirely creative as I am under stress and pain. I didn’t get the ticket. I was sad. Mostly because I personally know people who applied for hardship tickets and got them! They are not single parents. their family members are not fighting cancer. they go on a long sunny vacations and drive nice convertible cars. they get hardship ticket. I wonder whom I need to f**k at the Burning Man committee to get some empathy.

  • heleentje02

    I really want to go so badly but it’s too expensive for me. I live in The Netherlands so I also have to pay the flight and I’m just a poor student. So maybe after finishing my study and getting a good job ;)
    Very good article! I hope to have the same experience as you in the future.