[Haters? Don’t bother reading. This is one of those Burners.Me posts that you’re not going to like. You’ll probably even want to comment about it and call me names. Wonder why I’m always negative, or bashing BMOrg. Let me save you time, it’s terrible, just skip to the comments and start bashing me. Thanks very much. I say this because I think it needs to be said. Is this our party, or not? – ed.]
Last year’s bizarre ticket lottery system caused a lot of controversy amongst the Burner community. It was sold out. Then more tickets were permitted, and they sold out. Then all of a sudden it wasn’t sold out. Then tickets started going below face value. A sign on the way in said “SOLD OUT EVENT – GO BACK IF YOU DON’T HAVE TICKETS”. Then tens of thousands (supposedly) left before the Man burned. Newbies who couldn’t handle the dust, perhaps? The event survived, but ultimately with shrinking numbers.
This year – as far as we know – an officially funded and promoted Burning Man documentary is not being shot inside BMHQ. Telling the story of “only 50,000 can go, but 150,000 wanted to, it’s the hardest to get into party on earth with the World’s Biggest Guest List” is less of a strategic objective in 2013. The media blitz has happened, mostly fuelled by the controversy. Burners got pissed, major camps pulled out, attendance started to shrink. Some of the press even started heralding “Burning Man on its Last Legs“, “RIP Burning Man“. “Jumped the shark” became the new “Fuck yer day”. Whoops-e-daisies! Time to change tack. So, they changed the guard, got a new CEO for the event, and went with a more conventional and less controversial ticket system. A good thing. Higher prices, more tickets. Still some low-income tickets. But these days this is mostly an event for rich people. Minimum $1000 and a week off work to go, more realistically $2000. And many individuals and couples spending above $10,000. A hundred or more, perhaps, spending over $100,000. Every year.
It’s officially sold out, with a waiting list for tickets. There will be a last-minute release of tickets: 1000+ according to the official announcement. They have re-cycled their ticket re-cycling program, called
only we can be scalpers STEP – you can still enroll in this any time up to July 31, 2013.
1000+ huh? “Plus” any tickets that didn’t get sold through STEP? Or “plus” any tickets that insiders couldn’t
scalp sell at face value only to friends?
I got an email today saying my tickets have shipped. Here’s a quick look at the current aftermarket situation:
StubHub 317 tickets, starting at $574 each; you can buy as many as 86 tickets at $5000
eBay – 41 tickets, starting at $400 going up to over $1000
Craigslist just has a few wanted ads. But, it seems like it’s not going to be too hard to get Burning Man tickets this year. Just like the last few years have been.
You know, as I’m writing this post and putting in these hyperlinks, re-reading some of our old stuff from last year…I think I’m putting two and two together. I’m listening to Infowars.com as I’m writing, so maybe I’m just on the conspiracy wavelength. But the extreme increase in census taking seemed over the top. And we called them out on it. And then what they announced they were going to do with the data seemed like number-fudging. And we called them out on it. But now, everything seems to make sense. They want the numbers to suit the story, and they want the story to support a different set of numbers. Spreadsheet numbers, Powerpoint numbers. Valuation numbers.
The Powerpoint-ization of Burning Man. Has it really come to this? Can anyone really think the 10 Principles have credibility anymore? Most Burners can’t recite them, most people can’t remember more than 3-5 things…so why bother?
If Burning Man’s audience is the new young future of Silicon Valley, then it’s more likely that Google or a consortium led by their founders might buy Burning Man. These guys don’t want basketball teams (like Burner Chris Kelly, former Facebook Chief Privacy Officer who’s now the third major sports franchise owner I know who’s been to Burning Man) or America’s Cup teams (like Lanai Luau Larry). Burning Man is the ultimate billionaire’s trophy prize, the ultimate island. For at least a couple dozen billionaires in the world anyway, who pretty much all happen to be tech billionaires. And you can bet they’re big partiers, if they like Burning Man.
The founders want to cash out. Good on ’em, they deserve it. They’re going to IPO – or trade sale, to Google or one of their other HNWIs. Philanthropy is opening the doors for them to some real money. Like “affluent kid” David de Rothschild, who camps with them at First Camp. The owners of AOL and the Empire State Building are around somewhere, ensconced in their Plug-n-Play ecstasy. Lots of big money, this is one of their few playgrounds where the famous can be anonymous.
There’s a nearby land parcel they want to buy with a hot springs. They need to raise funds for that, so maybe they can package up a permanent location as part of the deal. They want to keep having the event on Federal land because everything’s pretty good with the BLM. Their guys are on various boards of various important political bodies in the region, and they’ve spent decades building personal relationships in the area and with the various agencies.
So, they set up a 501(c)3. They can dump profits into that and get the tax write-off at the same time as their projected windfall. Then, as with many private philanthropic foundations, they can find a way to funnel the money back to themselves in future salaries, directors fees, and travel expenses. Overseeing their global, crowd-funded, “Burner Empire”. And now as they travel,
paparazzi camera crews in tow, they get to tell the story of everything Burning Man is doing to save the world, instead of just telling the story of “free beers and hot chicks and cranking tunes in the dusty Wild West sun at Distrikt”, that you might hear from sites like this.
They team up with a film crew keen to make a movie, and come to a financial arrangement with them. They get a share of the profits, and the film crew will get an unprecedented inside look at Burning Man in this time of transition. They’ll present a couple of alternative viewpoints in the movie so no-one could accuse it of being a puff piece. But, like any good reality TV show, the producers want to crank up the controversy. “501 c 3 does not make good TV”
They need to get Wall Street’s attention. They want Wall Street thinking “Burning Man = Money”. They need some good demographic data, to present to Wall Street. The current data of “a lot of us lost our jobs when the Great Depression hit”, or “we’re artists and don’t make a lot of money”, or “we’re not from around here”, or “we all grow weed up in Humboldt and don’t have bank accounts or drivers licenses”…was not as valuable to them. New data would be needed, that better supported the story of “Burning Man and the tech industry are intertwined, and have developed together”. The ideal, saleable demographic would be “we’re young, college educated, live in SF Bay Area, work in tech”. In our city, this is known as “hipsters”. And sometimes “yipsters”. And I won’t tell you the word my friends and I actually use to describe them. But we’ve all seen the type. Hint: lives in Dogpatch, rides bicycle, eats raw food diet.
Yes, that would be a much better demographic. But how to change things? How to change the demographics, appeal more to Wall Street, and create a story for the movie”?
….are you with me here readers…
Here’s how the plan went down…hypothetically, of course. Because this blog is nothing but unsubstantiated, hypothetical speculation…troll food, for the haters. We never back up our claims with references, we’ve never been right when BMOrg has been shown to be wrong. BMOrg is always right. They are above criticism. They are like a flawless pearl, too good to even be made into a necklace.
OPERATION HELLCO – How to sell out and pretend not to sell out
We need to start with a step. A step, and a spark.
STEP 1. Create a ridiculous new ticket system that makes little sense. In classic Bernays propaganda techniques, say that this system is to help Burners. How does it do that? By “giving them a more fair chance to go, and combatting scalpers”. In itself a nonsensical statement. Scalpers are the ones that help Burners, by letting them go to the party if they want to but didn’t win the lottery. And scalpers are 1%, an irrelevance.
The result? “Quelle surprise! 150,000 people wanted to go, our servers were overwhelmed”. Their mysterious black box algorithm ultimately comes down to “the software guy says this”, which is a Book of Mormon style trust to take in truth.
Burners were quite surprised that so many wanted to go. It had sold out for the first time ever the year before, 2011. But not until August, just before the event. It had never, ever been a big deal to get tickets in the history of Burning Man. Which meant, scalpers had never been a big deal either. Once the dust had settled, BMOrg admitted scalping was only 1% of tickets at most. But scalping did exist – for a few months, the only tickets you could get were on the secondary market, at $1000+.
We tracked the price of tickets through the year. Then, there was a mysterious continuous supply of high priced tickets for a few months. We broke the story that there might be more tickets, and the after market price plummeted (3/19). Burning Man quickly issued a panicked denial as the price looked like it was going to sink back down below $1000 (4/10), swearing black and blue that there would not under any circumstances be more tickets. Then the prices went up again, until as Burners.Me predicted more tickets were announced…and then all of a sudden the price collapsed, first to $500, then below face value, then you couldn’t even give them away. It all smacks of manipulation to me, and I said so at the time.
We’re supposed to believe that demand tripled from one year to the next? But then vanished when the event actually came around? And this was because of a YouTube video? And the unprecedented media blitz of Burning Man during the year didn’t increase the demand in any way, or even maintain the existing demand – only Dr Seuss could do that? And that this year, even though the Hula-Hoop video is 4 times as popular as Dr Seuss was, numbers are back down to normal and there’s plenty of tickets going on the secondary market at near face value? But all of this is just natural, or coincidence, and nothing to do with the Spark movie? The first rule of Sinister Master Plans is, THERE IS NO SINISTER MASTER PLAN. You’re just paranoid, you crazy conspiracy theorist.
Were there ever 150,000 that wanted to go? Perhaps the extra 50,000 buyers wanting 2 tickets each were all Burners applying for friends and family, and not winning the lottery, or winning only to recycle them through STEP. Except that only 500 tickets went through STEP. We’ll probably never know, it’s all black boxes, but I don’t believe the official line. To believe that, you have to believe that out of 100,000 people who wanted to go at the start of the year but missed out on tickets, almost none wanted to go when it was actually the time of Burning Man? It doesn’t make sense. More likely, the 150,000 is a questionable number.
Curatious George, the curatious little Door Bitch
take a Burgin under your wing
This ticket lottery system achieved a lot of things at once. First, they got to decide a “Burgin Ratio” and apply it, cutting through the established Burner community. We don’t know whether this was done on a one-by-one basis to give them the demographics they were seeking, or by an arbitrary algorithm. Remember we had to fill out a questionnaire with our application, then we found out if we “won” the chance to give them hundreds of dollars, and spend thousands to participate in their event. I know I didn’t win (but still ended up there of course). What sort of Burgins did they pick to win? How much curation went on? This could have the result of stuffing the demographic with people to answer surveys at the gate – collecting a data set that would be used to
fudge adjust the numbers from 10 previous years of detailed census information. This is their right, it’s not like this is a Presidential election or anything. But why would they even care – unless they needed that dataset to make their case to someone? And who could that be? Whoever is buying it.
Bringing such a high proportion of Burgins in was sure to create controversy. For every one that was allowed in, someone else (who had been before, at least once) was not invited back. At the time I likened the situation to standing in the line outside an empty club. In hindsight, perhaps it was more like a change of security at a club – the new bouncer knocks back the people who’ve been coming there for years.
They got to create, and curate, the World’s Biggest Guest List. I keep harping on about that but I really think it is, it’s way bigger than the Oscars. Bigger than any club, or Vanity Fair party. The guest list I’m talking about is the 10,000 tickets that they got to allocate to specific theme camps. Of course if you are a celebrity or wealthy tech titan you will get on the guest list, no problem. It’s not that exclusive. But if you piss off the door bitch, it could be curtains for you. Oh, you lost the lottery again? Oh dear. What a string of bad luck you’re having.
This curation presents an interesting paradox for BMOrg though. Do they curate based on the 10 Principles? Or does celebrity or vast wealth carry more weight? Do you get in, based on what you give? If you don’t participate, if you just spectate, should you be invited back? What if you own the Empire State Building? What if you’re the President of the Board of Supervisors for San Francisco? Should the same principles apply, or is there a VIP list that’s beyond the officially stated principles? Some “old school Burnier-than-thou” types were very much against Plug-n-Play camping. Oh, the wailing, the gnashing of the teeth! At the same time, these “high rollers” are the Wall Street crowd that the Burning Man founders want to attract to their event. I hear that the head of PlayaSk00l gets skewered pretty badly in Spark for even having a Plug-n-Play camp. Now they’re completely allowed, you just have to pay a 3% tax to BMorg.
You could say “the spark of controversy of the ticket lottery, with the kindling of the wunderkid Burgins (chosen ones, by door bitch or by BEAST), and the fuel of the old timers who were then vocal on social networks, ignited a firestorm of media coverage of Burning Man around the world. Just as the movie was coming out.”
Ich Habe Ein Blitzkrieg!
I’m going to list the press coverage again because it was astounding to me when I started to put it together:
Wall Street Journal,
New York Times,
Town and Country,
San Francisco magazine,
New York magazine,
Delta Airlines in-flight magazine
Times of London
What a brilliant move. The ticket lottery didn’t make logical sense at the time, and many Burners wondered why BMOrg were ignoring our pleas for reason…but now it makes perfect sense. They get to carve up the database anyway they want. And we take their word for it that there were 150,000 applications for tickets. But if that were true, then surely the event would have sold out? Surely all this media attention would have increased demand over the year, not decreased it? And what about 2013? Where were the 150,000 applicants this year?
This certainly explains all the censi, questionnaire after questionnaire. And the statistically bizarre move of adjusting the long-form surveys from Center Camp over 10 years with the random sample at the gate from 1 year . They wanted to profile us as well. And they made sure that anyone with a smartphone – so, everyone – signed the photo rights over to them.
The Powerpointing of Burning Man
All this demographic data will be very useful in the Powerpoint presentation to Wall Street and Sand Hill Road. Especially if it says “yipsters”; less so “unemployed hippies, weed growers, artists, tradespeople, people from out of State or overseas”.
So, they applied the algorithm, whatever that was the result was yipsters up, old timers out, controversy created, ticket prices jacked to extremes on after market, global media blitz going on. Film producers happy, they have a story line they can work with, without getting into the complexities of the financial
chicanery transactions between all the various entities, sub-entities, actors and advisors. It’s scandalous, but it’s not really a real scandal. It’s one of those “nice to have” problems, oh, people can’t get tickets, hundreds of thousands want to go and are missing out. Oh dear. Film film.
Fusion art car, 2012
“How else can we get Wall Street’s attention?
How about we burn it!
Yeah! Great idea! How about we link it to the #Occupy Movement, and burn it!”
Which happened. With an Honorarium grant, free promotion for his project on the Burning Man official site (something most artists would love to get), an apparent leave pass for the artist to do as much press as he wanted talking about Burning Man, and a lot of funding, including a rumored 6 figure check from a JP Morgan executive. If JP Morgan gets the IPO, that would give a lot of credence to that particular playa rumor.
And it worked. #Occupy was pre-occupied by Burning Man. They’ve been pretty quiet in San Francisco and Oakland ever since. Wall Street paid attention. Bloomberg covered Burning Man then, and they covered Burning Man again last week at Le Web in London.
Bloomberg called it Silicon Valley’s hottest startup. That is a pretty big call. Especially for a company that is 16 years old and a partcipant-created event that we’ve been making for 25 years.
Other Bloomberg Burning Man coverage:
Burning Man at 2:01…
The discussion twixt Larry and Marian revealed in Scribe’s story, about the difference between ownership and control, the idea that although they would be relinquishing ownership to the masses, they would be retaining control more tightly than ever – had a whiff of the Popes lining their silk robes with lucre – as in Lucretia – in the Borgias, or the “Illusion of Control” as allowed to Joffrey by the Lannisters in Game of Thrones.
If Burning Man are going public or selling out to a bigger fish, then I applaud them; but the ends don’t justify the means. Dicking around your community for the sake of a movie you’re making money from, just so you can get some publicity, sucks. Making us suffer through that so you can get better numbers for your powerpoint slide, really sucks. And the end goal of all of that being, to maximize profits no matter what the impact on the Burner community…well, that would be one of the worst things they’ve pulled on us yet, way worse than just the lottery in itself.
Burners should get to participate too in the windfall to come. Let people in the ecosystem license the brand – make money with them. Help the Burners, Burning Man’s long-term survival depends on their prosperity. Anyone can sell tickets to spectators, but we’re not spectators. We’re the biggest fans, the people who love this party and come to the middle of nowhere to make it and take it away, every year. Let us buy a share when we buy a ticket. Start issuing some stock options to the people who’ve put in the years and the tears – don’t think of it as you making less, think of it as seeding a community to flourish over the long term, so you can continue to make money into the future. A rising tide lifts all boats, Burners don’t begrudge the founders getting the biggest boats, but we’re the tide. We want boats too!
I doubt that’s gonna happen. Instead, I predict annual ticket price increases, and expect all the Intellectual Property policies to be much more strictly enforced. The brand will be licensed more widely, as “decommodification” gives way to “only we make the money”. There will be lawsuits, and Burners would be blamed for any dips in the stock price.
If it gets bought by some tech guru, then perhaps Burning Man could be an experiment in the kind of “benevolent dictatorship” that is supposedly the best model for humanity to live in harmony and prosper under. Singapore, who are usually held up as a shining example of this model, was recently measured as the world’s unhappiest country. The new King would need to support and believe in the freedom the desert invites, rather than the NSA spying that Google and Facebook support. You don’t want to turn people who know how to burn stuff into rebels! Have you been to Burning Man? These people look like Mad Max and have flamethrowers and lasers.