UK’s The Guardian STEPs up global Burning Man 2012 ticket coverage

Full story at

The Guardian story is mostly a re-hash of other coverage (lazy journalism? She should be a blogger!) There were a couple of interesting messages though:

Mitchell Martin, editor of Black Rock Beacon, the newspaper for burners, has estimated that scalpers have snatched up between 15,000 and 20,000 tickets, although “probably closer to 15,000”. [Maid Marian] Goodell is dubious, though. “I don’t think there’s anyone on the planet who knows how many scalpers have tickets,” she said. “I wish I did.”

Why does she wish she did? What would she do then? And there must be someone – the scalpers have to know, right? I think 20,000 tickets to scalpers is financially extremely unlikely – without large scale collusion with BMorg.

“Here, two of the biggest tools that rule our lives, money and the internet, are taken away. Cell phones don’t work. There is no camp selling food. Everything people feel safe about is gone. You are reliant on human kindness.

…of course, you can still use money and get Internet at BMorg-controlled Center Camp. Big Brother doesn’t want you to feel safe.

After conceding that many of the gathering’s returning collaborations and camps were “perilously close to falling apart”, organisers have spent the past two weeks coming up with a solution. Late on Wednesday night, they announced they would be releasing a block of 10,000 tickets at $390 apiece to camps and teams of burners, based on several criteria, including previous years’ attendance.

But that plan has not been universally embraced. Critics say any ticketing criteria runs counter to one of the key principles behind Burning Man, its “radical inclusiveness”.

“It’s the best they could do with the mess they’d made” said Martin. “It’s grotesquely unfair, and … it means that more than a quarter of attendees will have been hand-picked by the [Burning Man organisation]. But it sure beats having 20,000 newbies standing around looking at each other and wondering WTF they should do for a week.”

Ah, Mitch. Another case of Burners not seeming to understand all the maths involved.

[Update, 9:39pm 2/22/12 – apologies to Mitch for questioning his Maths skills. He does just fine – see the Comments here, or read his own post over at The Black Rock Beacon]


A similar problem may be observed at night on the Playa, as Burners realize that 3 glowsticks over 7 days is not the same as “I’ll be glowing off the whole time I’m there”, and the odds of 1 person being hit by any of 50,000 bicycles are not the same thing as a 1 in 50,000 chance of being hit by a bicycle.

Don’t despair. Burners.Me is here to help.

We have 40% of tickets going to newbies, that’s 16,000 from the lottery release. Plus whatever tickets they can score from the secondary market. I think you could safely call that 4,000 – if you work off Mitch’s figure of 20,000 scalped tickets, 40% of that is 8,000 so 24,000 newbies. So yep, whether you like it or not you’re looking at “20,000 newbies standing around wondering WTF”.

Then, instead of Mitch’s estimated quarter, we have pretty much ALL tickets hand-picked by BMorg (well, hand- or mysterious algorithm that someone wrote by hand-)…except for scalped ones. The funny thing is, despite the protests and lamentations from BMorg that get parrotted through the community like they’re Fox News talking points: if you want to go to Burning Man this year, your best friend is the scalper. BMorg is only going to help you if they’re already your friend and you’re “on the list“.

10 comments on “UK’s The Guardian STEPs up global Burning Man 2012 ticket coverage

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  4. Heh, no way is 54-year-old me going to give you a picture to replace 30something me (from a picture booth in the Paris Metro, btw. It’s on the Beacon site because it was on the Black Rock Gazette site).

    My 20,000 figure was just off-the-cuff for the Guardian reporter, but it’s the right scale, and we arrive at it the same-ish way: a lot of newbs are going to buy scalpers tickets.

    50,000 seems like a lot of tickets, but it’s the size of a smallish baseball stadium. Scalpers regularly deal with that size venue. What they rarely get is an opportunity to buy tickets at 40% below the market price that are in no way inferior to the full-priced tickets, which is why I think they went ballistic over the $240s.

    In any case, I think we agree on the generalities, and thanks for your update and response.

  5. Um, hi. I’m Mitch. Thanks for digging up the 20-year-old picture of me, I was adorable back then. Relatively, anyway.

    The Guardian number quotes me accurately but doesn’t provide the math, which is contained in an article here:

    I think where we differ is that I’m assuming two classes of buyers:

    1. People who plan to go to Burning Man (new or old)

    2. People who plan to sell their tickets.

    There’s a little overlap there, Joe Dude might go to BRC but not if he can get $1,000 for his ticket.

    In the end, all the people who go will be Burners, but some number (almost 20,000 if you ask me) will have purchased their tickets from scalpers, some of whom are professionals, others Burners seeking to subsidize their trips.

    Now then. It’s pretty well established that large-scale theme camps got no more than 1/3 of the tickets they requested, perhaps as little as 1/5. That’s a big enough pool to be indicative of the bidding at large; so, pretty much, you can assume that for every 3 single-ticket bids, there was about one winner. We also know that 40% of bids were by newbies, so, 60% weren’t, if you can believe the poll.

    The 1/3 win rate is also generally consistent with the Bmorg’s assertion that there were 3 bids for every ticket on sale (so 120,000 in the main sale). We don’t know, and they haven’t told us, what the bidding was like at the 3 tiers. We suspect that the presale supply and demand was roughly equal because there wasn’t much complaining from people who had bid and didn’t get tickets. On ePlaya, it looked like only one person made that claim.

    If the entire pool consisted of real Burners, then all of the tickets would have gone to real Burners. But the vets, who outnumber the newbs 6-4, only got about a third of what they asked for. That third also includes the presale, which likely was mostly taken by the vets. So unless you think the number of veterans bidding grew enormously from last year (theoretically possible because there are vets who don’t go every year, but unlikely) there weren’t enough ticket won to account for tickets sold — the vets didn’t get them, and the newbies didn’t get them. I’m saying scalpers got them.

    (This is how they discovered Neptune. Uranus was in the wrong place. Read that out loud, why don’t you?)

    Your bicycle example doesn’t take account of time. If Olive Oyl stood out on the Playa long enough, she’d eventually get hit by 50,000 bicycles (ridden by monkeys with newly typed manuscripts of Hamlet under their arms, but I digress). All of the tickets had to be sold — or hit.

    I’m assuming that the pool of veteran Burners got 1/3 of the 43,000 tickets sold, or 14,333, leaving 9,555 for the newbies, which comes to just under 24,000. So, there are 19,000 unaccounted for. I adjusted a little for the idea that bona fide vets took most of the presale, and I’m assuming the bidding was much heavier at the $240 level and that scalpers took a lot of those (say 8,000, or 80%) and then maybe half the $320s (so 7,500). The $240s were riskless, they could be sold for $350 or more even if the event didn’t sell out. I don’t think professional scalpers would have gone for the $390s, but some Burners might, with the idea of selling them.

    Professional scalpers, btw, employ people to buy tickets for them. Lots of people. They do this all the time and they have access to capital to support it. I scanned your other article, and while the idea that the Bmorg fiddled with the lottery makes for interesting scenarios, I don’t think they’re evil, just inept.

    There are lots of variables that could change my calcs: How scalpers answered the newbie/veteran question or if they answered at all, what the bids at various levels were like, whether any of the tickets were indeed held back by the Bmorg.

    My quote on the 20,000 newbies was based on the idea that most of the scalper tickets will go to them in the end because long-time Burners won’t buy from scalpers. Many are throwing in the towel and may attend other events instead, ironically fitting in with the Fertility theme.

    I think in the end, those scalper tickets won’t go for much over face value either.

    Hope that clears things up.

    • thanks a lot for the detailed reply Mitch. I just got the picture from the Black Rock Beacon web site – happy to use a different one if you send it to me.

      I think we’re actually agreeing on the 20,000 newbies then – sorry, I thought your original post was suggesting that the outcome had been changed and now there wasn’t going to be 20,000 asking WTF.

      My earlier calcs came up with 10,000 unaccounted for, but 19,000 actually sounds more correct based on the feedback we’re hearing across the web. I think 20% of theme camps got tickets at best.

      For the professional scalpers to do it all, they would have had to get 50,000 different names and addresses – this is where the difficulty lies. I know scalpers have access to call centers of people, but this is an entire city in the Phillippines made of call centers. All with different credit card numbers. I can buy them getting maybe 5,000-10,000 tickets, with massive operations and tens of thousands of prepaid visa cards. But not 20,000 – 50% of all tickets in the lottery.

      I think one key variable is how the scalpers answered the newbie question, I agree. And how that factored into the algorithim.
      Once you look at the existing 16-20,000 newbies buying tickets from scalpers and disillusioned STEP donors, the number could be way higher.

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