2012 Financials [Update with Profit Estimate]

The Afterburn 2012 report has been published. The financials are there, but the census data isn’t. There may be other things missing too. I don’t have time tonight to go through keep the artistthe whole thing for y’all, but I did notice one thing that I wanted to point out. Currently, almost all of the art at Burning Man is community funded. The BMOrg awards art grants to a few dozen lucky artists a year, who get on average about $13,000. In 2012 the total amount of the grant was “more than $700,000”, according to Burning Man. They said it at the time in the JRS and they say it again here in this report. Well, the actual amount handed out according to the books is less than than that, $681k. What about that $19k, Burning Man? That could’ve funded 2 or 3 art projects for us to enjoy.

With the hundreds of art works and art cars coming to Burning Man each year, you’d think the BMOrg would find a way to hand that out some support to more than a chosen 47 artists. After all, they spent $84,000 on phone calls, in this age of Skype and Instagram and Snapchat…and $70,000 on uniforms and costumes (radical self-reliance at work?) I hope they enjoyed their $430,000 of travel, that’s $6 from each of us, and about $9000 per employee! Add to that another $1.27 million of meals, mmm, yummy!



2012 Cash Expenditures


Event-related expenditures:
BLM and other usage fees


Rental Equipment (heavy machinery, portable buildings, staff radio gear, cars and trucks)


Toilets (and related costs)


Honoraria provided to artists


Local Agencies (County law enforcement, Paiute Nation, Nevada Highway Patrol)


Materials and Supplies (shade structures, signage, lighting, décor, cleaning supplies, photography, archiving)


Cost of Goods for Ice, Café and Merch sales


Watering for dust abatement (equipment rental, contractor services)


Ticket sales/processing/printing fees paid to outside ticketing firm


The Man and Platform (materials, pyrotechnics, technicians, labor)


Medical Services and Supplies


Fire Safety




Small Equipment and Tools (including radio comm equip, safety & signage)


Printing (newsletter, survival guide, gate materials, postcards, stickers)


Vehicles (registration, repair, and maintenance)


Equipment Repairs, Maintenance, Cleaning


Costumes / Uniforms


Fees, Agency permits, royalties, Damages & Losses


Total event-related expenditures


Expense Categories that include both Event-related and Organizational:


Outside Services: Independent contractors


Insurance (property, liability, workers comp, vehicle)


Tax and Licenses (state and federal, payroll, misc)


Meals and Food (meetings, playa commissary, non travel)


Total Expense Categories that include both Event-related and Organizational


Total Outreach Expenses – Off-Playa Events, Regionals, Other


Year-round Expenditures of the Managing Corporation:
Outside Services (legal, consultants, accounting)


Facilities Rent


Travel (airfare, mileage reimbursements, food while traveling, accommodations for meetings, agency relations, public relations, training, etc)


Office and Computer Supplies


Utilities (San Francisco and Nevada)


Donations to local Nevada schools and organizations




Internet (hosting fees, POP accounts, high speed line)


Telephone (San Francisco and Nevada Offices, reimbursements, conference calls)


Shipping / Freight


Gifts, Promotions


Education and Training




Total year-round Expenditures of the Managing Corporation


Expenditures for Fixed Assets:


Computers and Electronics (including radio equipment)


Machinery and Equipment


Trailers and Portable Buildings


Land and Building Improvements


Furniture and Fixtures


Total Expenditures for Fixed Assets $444,631

Total Expenditures – 2012


Since BMOrg don’t want to share, we do the math, so you don’t have to.

Originally, there were just 50,000 tickets in 2012. BMOrg’s gate revenue for that was $18.5 million. Then, the special permit was increased, meaning more tickets. But, the event didn’t actually sell out, in fact attendance was slightly down on the previous year. The final attendance was 56,149, so assuming that the extra 6,149 all paid full price of $390 and there were no cash gate sales in addition, then 2012 ticket sales were $20.9m.  Did Burning Man actually lose money in 2012, when attendance dropped after the lottery fiasco?  Remember they found another $1.3 million in revenues after the event, that they forgot to account for. I believe I have those numbers included in the 56,149.

This year Cargo Cult Burners forked out more than $1 million, just on ice at Arctica. In 2012, the cost of providing ice AND coffee was $369,000, meaning this is quite likely the most profitable cafe in the entire world.

We don’t know how much additional moolah was earned from photo shoots ($150k a pop), movie royalties, and YouTube viewings…let alone equipment rental, plug-n-play camping, utilities, commissions…the list goes on, and is not public. We have to infer some of these things, from the economy we can see out there. The BLM fee is 3% of BMOrg’s total take from the event on their land. Note that there is a separate accounting line item for the other authorities. The Feds get paid $1.9 million for the use of their little patch of desert, that would otherwise just be sitting there waiting for a few land sailors to show.

[Update 10/27/13] – we have gained some further information on the breakdown of costs. The BLM Permit states that Burning Man has to cover the Feds’ costs, AND pay a 3% cut on top of that, so not all of the $1.9 million is from the commercial use fee. Here’s a more detailed breakdown of the split:

“Black Rock City LLC is responsible for payment of the actual costs of administering the Special Recreation Permit, including all direct and indirect costs, in addition to the commercial use fees.  The fees that BLM collected for the designated event period in 2008, 2009 and 2010 ranged from $989,000 to nearly $1.3 million.  In 2010, the BLM’s cost recovery from BRC for issuing the permit totaled $795,533.55, and BRC’s commercial use fees totaled $500,483.98 (Aspen 2011).

Agency, city and county personnel get paid overtime, and Black Rock City reimburses this cost.”

(This means BLM employees get paid overtime and Black Rock City foots the bill.)  This almost seems like giving “bribes” to the agency, city and county, doesn’t it?

More from the June 2012 Environmental Assessment (EA) for Burning Man.

So, now we have some data on the 2010 cost recovery item. Total BLM costs were $1,296,017, and the total revenue for the 3% commercial fee calculation was $16,682,799. The commercial use fees are 38.6% of the total. Assuming that this ratio still holds true for 2012, this would give us commercial use fees of $721,379.

Bringing the total take including tickets, ice, coffee, and donations, to $24,045,986. A nice profit for Burning Man of  $1,934,406 – before taxes, but after they’ve taken out about $8.5 million in salaries.

Transformoney Tree

Transformoney Tree

The actual cost of putting on the party appears to have gone up substantially this year, to $8.1m – meaning it won’t be surprising if it exceeds $10 million for the first time when 2013’s results come out. This year’s numbers will be underpinned by higher attendance of almost 70,000, offset with higher legal costs and payments to authorities. Total take by the Feds and the local authorities, including Paiute Indians and donations to schools and other local organizations, was $2,779,887. Take that stuff out and really, it’s costing $5.3 million to put on a party for 70,000 people with no commerce that brings in  over $24 million.

youtube-moneyOf course, we don’t know how much revenue gets brought in from the year-round activities like photo licensing, merchandise sales, fine art, and broadcast and YouTube royalties. Presumably this is enough to offset at least some of the $2.7m in organizational overhead costs that are not event-related.

breaking bad moneyIt sure seems like several great big piles of dough, for a week in the inhospitable wilderness. Burning Man’s all grown up now, we don’t begrudge them any of it, it’s theirs to spend however they see fit. If they think the year round activities make the week of the party better, beyond the event costs, that’s their right. Hopefully when the event completes its transition to a non-profit, we can all see some public, audited accounts – just like other cities like San Francisco publish for their taxpayers. $390 is cheap when you consider that it’s tax AND rent combined.

One thing’s for sure: the banks are getting almost ALL of this money. As it flows into the community and back out, between us all and the BMOrg and Wal-Mart and Chevron and El Monte RV and so on in this symbiotic economy… the banks get paid, again and again and again.

Imagine what a different world we’d have, if instead of all the year-round activities, the Burning Man Organization just threw the week-long annual party, then invested half the profits in buying land and infrastructure in other places around the world for Burners to throw Regional events at. The founders could still pull out $8 million a year profits for themselves, and the Burner universe would be getting $8 million of new, permanent, cultural infrastructure every year. The event would be underpinned by permanent infrastructure and land that would appreciate in value over time, as Burners improved it and up-cycled it with new, more profitable uses.

40 comments on “2012 Financials [Update with Profit Estimate]

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  11. Thank you for sharing this blog. As one still looking for a ticket to the 2014 BM festival starting next week (shameless promotion here is my wanted ad –> http://phoenix.craigslist.org/evl/wan/4611416672.html)

    I asked nearly 10 different burners where BM keeps there financial statements. All of them clueless just saying they think the money goes to artists. Knowing enough about business and non-profits to know that of course that will be a fraction of the income I became hungry for the statement. This year its 70k people at either $680 or $380, plus applicable taxes and fees and the required $40 vehicle pass.. That is a bare min of $30-$100 million. I was curious as to the breakdown but like most assume there is some padding involved with the numbers.

    Is it right to make a profit, sure it is. Let’s just not forget that the premise is a gifting economy its the greatest paradox we have these days. Wanting a new resourced based economy (Venus project by Jacques Fresco etc) Yet living in the monetary system that is designed for 99.9% to lose and be broke.

    I am curious how this compares to other similar events numbers?


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  18. As a playa artist with half dozen installations to my credit I have funded all of my projects to the tune of many tens of thousands. I find ut questionable that almost all of the art at Burning Man is paid for by the community. For one, I know waaaay too many artists who are self funded for this to be true and for another, as I understand it, the community doesn’t pay for any art. It pays for the materials and transport costs, am I not correct? The artist contributes the art. How can a community so nourished by art ignore the artist’s needs and contributions so? In light of this, I object strongly to the carton at top of this post. Cartoons should be funny. I don’t find the attitude that artists should be expected to sell themselves in order to survive their contribution funny at all.


    • I don’t get it. You’re saying you pay to bring your own art to Burning Man. Therefore, you are part of the community that funds the art.
      Everything we’re saying, in this post and everywhere else, strongly agrees with you. The community – the artists, the participants, the Burners – are the ones paying for the art. Not BMOrg.
      Or, why are you bringing your art to Burning Man, but thinking that you are somehow not part of the community? What then is the point ?
      Also, saying that “cartoons should be funny” is like saying “art should be beautiful”. Sometimes art exists to make a political point, not just to pretty things up. The point made by this cartoon, is that BMOrg are the ones making the profit from the art that the community brings to their event. I agree that the artists should be able to profit from their art too. Read some more of this blog, this is pretty much THE MAIN THEME of it.


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  22. Another very obscure part of the Financial Chart is the Payroll bump from 2009 to 2010:

    Payroll 2009: 2,858,000
    Payroll 2010: 7,283,000

    What happened? All of a sudden, they actually started playing people proper salaries? They increased staff?? What happened?


  23. The afterburn financial report is a joke, and always has been. No financial statement does not include information on income and profits. What’s worse is that the profits derive from the art and gifts of the community. Sure, they are a business and deserve payment for their hard work – but Disneyland does not ask you to man the gate, bring the rides, and take out the trash.


  24. My favorite post yet Mr. Zos. Especially the ending. Our community’s resources being invested into the BM event in Nevada is totally up for recalibration and new ideas for how to better invest it so it doesn’t end up wasted are incredibly welcome. If BM can be a model, with the transition to non-profit, with *radical* transparency, to demonstrate an effective restructuring from opaque LLC to globally governed transparent non-profit think of what other organizations could learn from this. To me, that’s what BM is: an invaluable opportunity for humanity to activate human potential and replicate the model that hatches those best practices. We all have to be change agents in our respective domains to create a better world, more intelligently designed and governed. This evolution comes to every human involved and hard-ass work. 1 1/2 years deep and i can tell you i’m witnessing some amazing transformation at BM Project. Day-to-day it can be frustrating as hell sometimes, but when I zoom out from the trenches the impact in undeniable. We have an opportunity to do something unprecedented as this migration to non-profit gets executed and we engage the community and wider world in a new way.

    One last note: Thank you to all of you for all your opinions, even when they are intense and even negative. The diverse array of discourse around ‘BM Philosophy’, if you will, is one of my favorite things about BM. The more the merrier. Like that “Fuck Burning Man” video — to me, bring it on… the more opinions and discourse we have the better. Thanks Burners.Me for what you do.


    • That sounds about right. Please remember that the work crews are out there end of July through the beginning of October. They are fed 3 meals a day and have snacks for those working all night. There are hundreds of workers, and then there’s law enforcement, feds, medical staff, BM employees. Then the EA participants with meal passes come in and they are fed too. The commissary prepares thousands of meals per day. They are not fed crap food either. They take really good care of their workers. This all costs money.


  25. so for everyone that bitched and complained that BMorg is rapping all of us burners, this shows that it is no different than another other struggling city in the US of A. there are 70,000 people that come. It would not be worth putting a festival this size if it was not worth the time and effort. Us normal people who go to BM and are not involved with any art project or theme camp, have no right to complain if the profits of the festival are allocated to the people who work the event, also to current and future art projects/grants.
    if you feel that you deserve some of the profits, THEN JOIN A GROUP THAT GETS MONEY FROM BM!!!!!!!!! or if you feel that theese people who work all year long should not get paid for what they do, try working a day in their shoes.


    • Yes please do explain where to get this money that group get. I’ve brought an art car every year since my first year in 2007. Three different art cars built as cheaply as possible. Fist one cost 4k, Second cost 12k. Third cost 15k. Not a single dime or free ticket from BM for any of it. I also worked on the Trojan horse of 2011. Remember the giant fucking horse? They got no grant money from BM. None. And not for lack of asking. Just some comp tickets.


      • Ticket revenues are up due to no tiered prices, yet art cars and sound camps still get no financial support. I built a sinking freighter art car for ’12 and ’13, and I won’t be back, and neither will the ship. The sense of entitlement seen from the average burner this year was just horrifying (why do you think I owe you a ride?), and BMOrg benefits from art car contributions just as much as non-mobile art. I felt more in camaraderie with law enforcement, the sewer pumpers, and the other paid professionals. Except I paid myself in both money and time and ended up taxi driver, builder, servant. Cost for Sinking Ship Mutant Vehicle: $15k. Getting 600 suckers to spend this kind of dough bringing art cars: Priceless. Some things BMOrg money can buy. For everything else there’s burner suckers.


  26. A few things:
    – To calculate their extra income based on the 3% BLM fee: I think the 2012 BLM contract has BLM Law Enforcement fees and Administrative fees included in their payment to the BLM in addition to/separate from the 3% land use fee. The contract is on BLM’s website, and the BM website has to have a pointer to it, per the contract. If so, you need to subtract these fees from the $1.868 million paid to the BLM before applying the 3% rule. The BLM law enforcement and administrative fees, as well as the 3% payment, and other details on the payment may be available from the BLM with a Freedom of Information Act request.

    – It would be nice to see a Balance Sheet, and an Income Statement, the standard financials for a corporation. The last “cash on hand” reported was in 2006, and it was just under $1 million, thank goodness that they were finally able to get some cash on hand that year. I wonder how much “Cash and Short Term Securities” are on their balance sheet now? And, how much is currently being paid out to the LLC members for the transfer to a non-profit, with the first major payment going out this month? How many years of these payments to the LLC members are going to happen before the non-profit takes control, three?

    – One apparently significant source of income for the LLC members is “Salaries” which jumped from about $3 million in 2009 to about $7 million in 2010. How much of that increase went to the LLC members? About $500K each x 6 LLC members per year?

    – Separate from this 2012 afterburn financial “report” as to payments to the LLC members, is the Burning Man Project non-profit taking, or going to take out major loans to pay the LLC members off? Or, does the transfer agreement include continuing payments to the LLC members well into the future?

    – Census: The only thing I remember from the 2012 Gate census was that it was 39% newbies. The 2013 Gate Census, which the LLC has also, umm, let’s be charitable, “declined to publish”, shows:

    Number of Previous Years:
    0: 42.0%
    1: 20.2%
    3-4: 13.2%
    5-7 6.3%
    8-10: 3.4%
    11 or more: 3.5%
    Age: Under 20: 2.5%; 20-24: 10.8%; 25-29: 22.1%; 30-34: 21.8%; 35-39: 12.8%; 40-49: 15.1%; 50-59: 10.4%; 60+: 4.4%
    The 2013 Gate Census, which ran from Friday of build week through Wednesday of event week also asked questions about gender, first language, and residence.

    So, this year were 40% newbies yet again, 3 out of every 4 people were on the playa 2 or fewer years, and 7 out of every 8 people were on the playa 4 or fewer years. Wow! No wonder the city proper has such a different feel to it now, the culture has changed.

    I wouldn’t care, but I pitch/gift in far more than my share, and when some take advantage of our gifts for their own benefit, I feel like a sucker. That, and the culture has significantly changed on the playa, with far less life in the city proper, especially in the evening and at night, with significantly fewer incredibly cool Burners by percentage now. I wish the org had worked to get far more tickets to the traditional Burner population, rather than to such an incredibly high percentage of new people. We love newbies, if they’re not just tourists spectating at an incredibly cool festival, but the overwhelming numbers are changing the culture on the playa.

    Thanks for writing your blog!


    • Also, I seem to remember, from years prior to 2012, there was some legal wrangling over the previous 3 or 5 year contract as to whether the 3% payment to the BLM included the law enforcement and administrative costs. I seem to remember that BMOrg said that it was resolved in their favor, but I forget the details. This info is also available on the web and saved JRS’s with some searching.


    • thanks for the detailed reply. I agree that “BLM fees”/3% is an inaccurate estimate, and the total take is likely to be less than $60m. However, I do think it is likely to be substantially more than the $22m in expenses for the year. Good point about the massive salary hike. Burning Man insiders also get paid on the secondary market reselling the blocks of tickets they are awarded.


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