Profit Grows, Donations Shrink: 2013 Afterburn Analysis

BMOrg have released the 2013 Afterburn report, a summary of the year’s activities – the main one, of course, being the 70,000 person UFO burn. We wondered where the report was on June 2, and it was released this weekend, Saturday June 7. Thankyou BMOrg!

They upped the art grants, to $825,000 (listed as $830,280 in the financials). This funded 66 projects (2012:47), an average grant of $12,500 (2012: $14,894). There were a total of 380 art installations on the Playa, including 24 regional effigies.

Artists set yet another record with the number of art installations – over 380 incredible pieces graced the open playa, 66 of which were honoraria funded in part by $825,000 in art grants sourced from Burning Man ticket revenues. 24 of these projects were part of the Circle of Regional Effigies (CORE), designed and built by teams from Burning Man’s global Regional Network, placed around the Man in four clusters of six pieces each, and burned simultaneously on Thursday night of the event.

Here’s a timelapse view of the Cargo Cult CORE Burn:

iphone 2013The CORE projects got about $1000 each from BMorg. Beyond that, they had to do their own fundraising, and perhaps might be paying royalties to Decommodification, LLC in the future.

At least two of the 66 Honorarium projects were for art cars, not art installations – the Neverwas Haul steampunk house, and the Serpent Twins. A further 2 had clear commercial links – the Like4Real Facebook like sculpture, which received funding from Facebook founders, and the iPhone cult. To me, putting a giant iPhone or Facebook image on the Playa is the same as putting a giant neon Bank of America sign 100 feet high. Maybe it’s hilarious irony, and I just don’t get it. Or maybe it’s commodification, and it’s being flaunted right there in our faces.

OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERADid every one of the projects funded actually make it to Burning Man? It’s hard to say, but let’s give them the benefit of the doubt and assume “yes”. I’ll even ignore the 2 blatant corporate advertisements. Removing the 2 art cars from the count of fixed art, means 64 legitimate art installations received a minor amount of BMOrg assistance. Therefore – 83% of the art on the Playa was funded entirely by Burners. The remaining 17% was also funded by Burners – directly, for the overall project costs; and indirectly, from the small (< 3%) amount of ticket sales re-directed by BMOrg.

BMOrg continue to expand their international reach.

The Burning Man Regional Network became bigger, stronger and more active than ever, growing to 220 Regional Contacts serving communities that span 28 countries and five continents, while hosting 50 different official regional Burns. Over 30 new Regional Contacts were added in new locations across the world including Brazil, South Korea, Argentina, Austria, Russia, Latvia, Greece, Russia, and Yellowknife (Canada). International interest continues to grow as Burners from Dubai, Mexico, the Yucatan, Columbia, Chile, Turkey, Malaysia and Vietnam have reached out to express their interest in representing Burning Man in their home countries.

And if it’s any indication of Burning Man’s growing global reach, over 132,000 people tuned in to the live webcast as the Man burned on Saturday night, and “SimulBurns” were celebrated in cities around the world.

132,000 people watched the Man Burn live on the Internet? I call bullshit. It’s a little like “4 billion people watched the Olympics”. Who’s doing this counting? We would love to see some proof of this number. Maybe 132,000 watched the UStream video over the course of the event and in playback later.

As for the 28 countries, 5 continents, and 50 official regional Burns – BMOrg perhaps needs to update their web site, as they list only 16. Only 3 of those took place outside North America – Korea, New Zealand, and Africa.

The Environment section shares some of BMOrg’s vision for making the event more green: fancy offices.

burning man yellow green bikesAfter 2 ½ years in our Mid-Market location, we moved the Burning Man Headquarters in October 2013 to a new office building in the Mission. We traded 5 floors and secluded offices for 3 floors and open floor plans with very few walls. The move was seamless and we have been settling in ever since. It is an energy efficient office building, utilizing automated lighting and HVAC systems to reduce waste while providing a comfortable working environment. We are planning to have a rooftop garden area for hanging out and also meetings. We are working on plans to have the bees return to our new roof in 2014. 

Bees, huh? OK. Saving the world, one Mission rooftop hangout at a time. They’re also addressing air and noise pollution, one generator at a time. Eventually, they say, the event will be entirely generator-free! Because everything will be powered by recycled methane emissions from our flying pig art cars.

Our contribution to cutting generator noise and air pollution in 2013 was to power the lights for Jerry Snyder’s wonderful Ichthyosaur Puppet, a 50-foot long replica of a reptile that swam the seas above the playa 225 million years ago. We also borrowed a larger solar trailer from Alternative Energy, Inc. in LA to enable the Temple to be completely generator-free for the first time…It won’t happen next year, or the year after, but the day will surely come when the whole playa is a generator-free zone.

recyclingDPW, the TSA (yep – there’s a TSA now), the Commissary ($1.4 million annual food budget), and other official sections of Black Rock City generated 26 containers of landfill and 31 containers of recycling. In terms of standard size shipping containers, 31 would be 9.5.

It seems like recycling is on the rise, and generating financial benefits for the community – great news.

They are known on the Playa as the Transfer Station Authority, aka the TSA. The DPW transfer station crew is responsible for the full waste stream sorting and five stream recycling collections in Gerlach and in Black Rock City. In 2013 they collected 74 cu. yds of aluminum; 124 cu. yds of plastic; 74 cu. yds of glass; 30 cu. yds of steel and scrap metals; and 118 cu. yds of cardboard. Add it all up and they collected and diverted more materials than any other year on record.

BRC Recycle Camp is the one place in our “pack-it-in, pack-it-out” city that participants are allowed to leave a trace – their aluminum cans that is. Recycle Camp has been collecting cans in Center Camp for 17 years, and in 2013 they collected roughly 190,000 aluminum cans – that’s more than 6,000 pounds of aluminum. With the proceeds from the three tons of aluminum, Recycle Camp was able to cover the transportation expenses and make a sizable donation of $1,200 to the students of The Gerlach K-12 School.

Leave a trace! Leave it better. Unfortunately the Gerlach K-12 school is in danger of closing, because there are only 13 students.

On to the financials.

In summary: In 2013, Burning Man increased the population and ticket rake massively. They decreased payroll and donations to charities. They trimmed their travel expenses. And yet they somehow managed to spend $4 million more. So what happened? Well, it seems that the impact of Decommodification, LLC’s royalty payments was significant.

In Marian Goodell’s recent speech at TEDxTokyo, she said that the business was doing $30 million in revenues. Which means a profit after all royalty, rental, salary, travel, and contractor payments of $3,189,276 – almost 4 times the size of their art grants. Our estimate for event revenues in 2012 was $24 million, including $1 million of ice sales – so this is an increase of about 25% for 2013. Our estimate for profits in 2012 was $1,934,406, so they’re up 65%. 

According to the official numbers, in 2013 there were 61,000 tickets sold ($23.23 million). This includes a last minute release of 3000 “OMG” tickets, when the BLM approved a population cap increase. Also according to the official numbers, 69,613 attended the event. What gives? Did anyone at BMOrg make money from the unexpected 8,613 extra people (ticket value: $3.3 million)? Or were these tickets handed out for free to volunteers, who sold them on Stubhub or STEP for personal gain? How much was made from gate sales? It’s hard for us to answer these questions, you’ll have to draw your own conclusions. Maybe they just gifted 10% of all tickets for free to hand-picked “worthy” Burners and theme camps…invisible generosity seems unlikely, given their track record of shameless self-promotion.

The most significant thing in the 2013 financials is the spectacular leap in usage fees – up about 250%, from $1,868,033 to $4,522,952. We know that the BLM did not increase their permit fees – in fact, some of their costs are now shared with Pershing County. We also know that the BMOrg founders created a secretive, privately held company called Decommodification LLC, which receives royalties from the Burning Man event for trademarks and images (it owns the commercial rights to every photo and movie shot by anyone at Burning Man). It’s not clear which expense category these payments fall under in the unaudited Afterburn “accounts”, but it seems like “BLM and other usage fees” would cover it. The difference between this expense item for 2013 and 2012 is $2.6 million, so I think a fair estimate for the size of this royalty payment is $2.5 million.

Communications cost them $393,860 – including postage and shipping, computers and office supplies, telephone and Internet. Despite downsizing from 5 floors of a building to 3, rent and utilities was $805,115, or $67,000 per month (2012: $700,142).

Toilet expense was almost $1 million. It works out to $13.95 per Burner, or about $2 a day.

Local cops got $301,660 – down from $615,803 last year. Perhaps the integration of Pershing County and the BLM has been lumped in the BLM usage fees category now. Medical and fire costs totalled $618,054 – bringing payments for police/fire/medical to $919,714, in addition to the BLM permit fees and other licenses.

Despite the “transition to a non-profit”, and population increasing 25%, donations decreased 20%. Local schools and charities got $199,329, down from $238,976 (2012). When we looked at this number in the past, many of these allegedly local charities were in San Francisco, and some were just transfers to other divisions of the BMOrg conglomerate.

Costs for merchandise and everything else they sell at Burning Man was $455,546 – 3000 scarves.

Payroll including contractors was $8,194,389 – down from $8,643,099 in 2012. The staff roster has not yet been published. Although it is listed as a category, it has not been updated since 2009. Another $1.4 million was spent on lawyers and accountants – that’s a helluva lot of lawyering. But then again, for a group that is supposed to be non-profit, they have a helluva lot of for-profit and non-profit entities. In 2009 they decided to transition to a non-profit. The legal costs then took a huge leap, from $366,000 in 2008 to well above $1 million. Total legal and accounting costs for the 5 years 2009-2013 is $6,625,360. A sure sign of a complex financial structure, and highly unusual for a charity.

Travel was $425,728 – the cost of bringing BMOrg’s vision to 28 3 countries. This was down slightly on $430,309 in the previous year.

Insurance also dropped slightly, possibly due to shifting some of the burden onto artists.

Here’s the full chart:



2013 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


Total Expenditures – 2013



2012 numbers here.

If anyone has further information or analysis, please share it. We’d love to know a current headcount of FTE’s (Full Time Employees) at BMOrg.



34 comments on “Profit Grows, Donations Shrink: 2013 Afterburn Analysis

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  26. It was honourable of the BMOrg to release the afterburn report of 2013, despite many of the statements are PR, therefore, I do not desire to comment upon it in detail. In addendum, thousands of awesome Burners are enthusiastic upon construction of their art, theme camps, mutant vehicles, and upon other burns, and many awesome Burners labour, within the trenches, of the BMOrg.

    What must be commented upon, the ‘BLM and other usage fees are $2.6 million higher, my maths might be $1.7 million to $2.4 million, perchance, are for usage fees of the trademarks of the Burning Man(TM) name and logo, paid towards the Decommodification LLC pockets of Larry and his mates, in due of payments towards BLM police, within 2013, might be higher, and, perchance, payments, within 2013, might be directed towards the Nevada roads ministry. In addendum, by appearances, they took solely $3 million of salary towards their pockets within 2013, lower than, by simple maths, the $4 million of prior annums. I did not include the cash of the licence fee of the trademarks for 2013, 2014, 2015, nor 2016, within the $28 million numeral, within my post The Great BMOrg Cash Out of 2010-2016 – $28 Million to $45 Million, Est, nor their salary for their labours upon the Burning Man Project, so, the $28 million lower numeral might be higher, perchance, towards $35 million. In addendum, I must update maths of the art grants within the history of Burning Man, priorly under $6 million, towards under $7 million, in due of art grants of 2014.

    As stated prior, these numerals are based upon their numerals, their statements, and their corporate records, supported upon the links within the post of The Great BMOrg Cash Out, and, upon the links within the comments upon the post. Click on the links upon the post, and upon the comments, especially upon the spreadsheet, by Woody, showing the cash out began within 2010. I would be most obliged if any might prove anything to be incorrect, of which, none others have done so, with solely small differences.

  27. The Afterburn reports are totally bogus, always have been. Why would you trust a corporation like BMorg to be open with their books?

  28. FYI the iPhone Cult had a coin slot and a glass container with fake gold. The idea was to mock the way we worship our phones. These are the false gods we wished to burn. The reverse of the iPhone Cult also had a mirror and shaving station for the Iphone Cult priest who lies and manipulates the public. That was the idea when I created this art. Apple computers was my target nit the sponsor.
    Thank you, the artists
    Abe Carmi Raphael

  29. Why not reach out to John Graham and his team to fact check the viewership numbers? I’m sure he’d be happy to answer your questions since he and his team have been at it for 10 years. It would have only taken a second. If he didn’t get back to you, think of how much stronger your baseless claim could have been!

    Then again, I’m sure its much more fun to call him a liar and trash on his decade long contribution to the burn without any reason besides your adolescent backlash against anything reported by BMorg. Its fine if you want to sit in your sandbox and play pseudo-investigative journalist with regards to BMorg “controversy” but perhaps its time you reached out to ask questions and did some investigation rather than just belching your usual brand of soap box speculation.

    Also, you seem to think that a charity and a non-profit organization are the same thing. Oops! Maybe this a good place to start your critical thinking!

    I’ve never met John Graham but I’d like to congratulate and thank him and his webcast team for their hard work and devotion over the years!

    • The post is based upon the afterburn reports and upon the links within the post, click on the links. Should you have clicked upon the link, termed ‘playback’, within the post, you would be of the knowledge that the person, and his mates, that did the webcast of the ten years prior did not do the webcast of 2013, it was a new crew that did the webcast of 2013. You would also be of the knowledge that there were technical problems, making the viewership lower.

      Should you have clicked upon the links, in addendum, you would be of the knowledge that Black Rock City LLC, Burning Man, was a for profit corporation within 2013, and is, at present, a for profit corporation owned by a non profit.

      burnersxxx stated within the post ‘If anyone has further information or analysis, please share it.’ Your ad hominem attacks are not further information or analysis.

      • Thanks ABP. It takes a lot of time to put all those links in, providing references to what we’re talking about. It’s a shame that the trolls and sock puppets would rather just bash us, than follow the links or address the actual points we raise. The truth is the truth, if we were wrong it should be very straightforward for BMorg to clear the air.

    • This post IS reaching out – in the most public way possible. ANYONE I mean anyone who has more accurate data for the streaming, please share it.

      It’s BMOrg who seem to think that all these discussions should happen in secret: WHY? If it’s a “non-profit”, why have so many secrets? Why not be open?

      Most of this post is MATHEMATICS, some of it is deduction, some of it is opinion. I ask questions, which I would love to have answered. I say that I don’t know the answers, so readers will have to draw their own conclusions. I even give BMOrg the benefit of the doubt in the part where I am speculating. They’re welcome to come here and correct any errors, in fact we would greatly encourage them to.

      I have pointed out so many inaccuracies in BMOrg’s statements. Call that adolescent if you will; I happen to think the Burners who have created this community over decades have a right to the truth, rather than to be lied to for the sake of maximizing profit for a handful of “founders”. The one factoid that I *point out* I don’t have concrete proof of (because I don’t have access to all the data) gets called “belching soap box speculation”.

      Why do I think that 132,000 viewers at once might be a dubious number? Well here’s the UStream data on Burning Man 2013


      2013 webcast views:
      2504 views (Burning Man webcast, 16 minutes)
      1010 views (Burning Man webcast, 3 hours)
      577 views (Burning Man webcast, 3 hours)
      1277 views (Bunring Man webast, 48 minutes)

      This looks like thousands, or tens of thousands of views – not hundreds of thousands of viewers all tuning in live. Surely more of the 132,000 would have followed Burning Man, if they were tuning in live to watch the burn? Or did 95% of them watch it but not think it was very good?

      If you read the comments on UStream, you will see that there were a lot of problems with the stream. Most who wanted it, could not actually see it. For example:

      “Anxiously awaiting the Burning Man live feed – it’s been advertised as “live” all week – but – still waiting…. Camera crew must be sleeping – on playa-time – or something. Oh well…”


      “demo mode is making it so that the video cuts out every 15 seconds and goes to a Sony advertisement for 30 seconds”

      …it goes on and on in this vein. Looks to me like another epic BMOrg #fail , spin-doctored with misinformation into a Jackrabbit-style story that it was a roaring success. Maybe 1000 Ustream commenters, and the statistics on that site, are all wrong just like us – and BMOrg is right. If so, shouldn’t it be trivial for them to prove it?

      I’ve never met John Graham either, and I certainly never called him a liar. I don’t even know who he is, or what his relevance is to this post. If he or anyone from the new team are reading this, please come, please share. We’d love to get to the truth – in conjunction with our readers.

    • WRT the comment that a charity and a non-profit are not the same thing: a better way to state this is “philanthropy, and a tax-exempt entity paying royalties to an insider-controlled private company, are not the same thing”.

      Perhaps we were foolish (or, adolescently naive) to think “Burning Man has fully completed it’s transition to a non-profit” meant something different from “the founders came up with a new tax avoidance scheme to maximize the money they can pull out of the event, while minimizing the tax they pay on it”. There is no obligation for this tax structure to be charitable, you’re right. We just formed that impression from all Larry and Marian and Jackedrabbit’s descriptions of what “The Burning Man Project” was supposed to do for the world.

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