BREAKING! BurniLeaks: The New Scalpers

Wondering why you haven’t got your STEP invitation yet?

Anonymous has shared with us the following letter from BMOrg HQ (emphasis ours):

From: Steven Young <>

Subject: Donation Ticket Introduction

Date: June XX, 2014 [snip]

bmp logo

We have a special opportunity to share with you. The Burning Man Founders have made a group of 2014 Burning Man tickets available as thank-you gifts for Burning Man Project to offer to our supporters. For a limited time, your $650 contribution includes a $250 tax-deductible donation to the non-profit Burning Man Project along with the gift of one ticket (valued at $400).

We have a limited number of these Thank You Tickets available. If you would like to make a donation to Burning Man Project, kindly send us your name, email, and phone number, and desired number of Thank You Tickets. The default maximum is two tickets. If you need more than two, please let us know in your email and we will be happy to accommodate your needs. We will send you a link to a private website with a personalized code which can only be used one time. Once the donation is complete, we will send you an acknowledgment for your contribution. Thank You Tickets will be mailed separately by Burning Man Project via express mail. These particular tickets are not refundable and will not be available for pick up at Will Call in Black Rock City.

This is a short-term initiative about which we are being discreet; kindly do not post about it on social or traditional media, but let us know if there is anyone you would like to include in this opportunity. For questions, please contact or 415-865-3800 x 198.

These crucial contributions help Burning Man Project share the Ten Principles and the transformative spirit of Burning Man with the larger world. Burning Man Project initiatives are helping more people around the world gain access to transformative experiences and manifesting expression and inclusion in the arts, education, and civic participation. Our generous community of donors continues to help us grow, and we are very grateful to all who make it possible!


steve young

Steve Young

Burning Man Headquarters )'(


kool aidOi vey!

I know that Burning Man Caravansary is getting close – the man burns in 78 days. Many people who have tickets already are getting excited for Burning Man, and some would rather live in blissful ignorance drinking the BMOrg Kool Aid, than hear anything more about BMOrg’s Transition to a Non-Profit. Those people are encouraged to read Happy Happy Joy Joy world at the official Burning Man blog or the JackedRabbit bleats. Burners who want the truth come to Burners.Me – and can see that it ain’t us writing these letters and coming up with these cockamamie shenanigans.

Where do I start?

First of all, Mr Young, Burning Man tickets cost $380. So the donation should be $270. The difference might seem minor to you, whom I’m sure gets to go to Burning Man for free, maybe even with some extra tickets to flog off on the side – but to Burners who are spending their own personal money, it is still significant. BMOrg can’t just keep pushing ticket prices up $20 every year, because “$20 doesn’t count”. The fact that in their minds, tickets are $400, suggests that the $40 vehicle tax was just a sneaky way of increasing prices.

scalping politicianNext, let’s talk about scalping. Remember when we had the ticket lottery, in 2012? We were told that the reason for this convoluted scheme was to prevent scalping. Presumably, the “logic” behind this was that scalpers would sell the ticket to the highest bidder, who might be some rich tourist in – gasp! – an RV, who didn’t “get the culture”.

This was shown to be a total sham when:

a) the system turned out to be a scalpers wet dream, with tickets rocketing towards $1500

b) we predicted (accurately) that there might be a release of more tickets; this sent the prices plummeting back towards $1000. Will Chase then scrambled to dispel the rumors, which sent the prices on the rise again for a while. A month later, more tickets were announced, the secondary market tickets prices collapsed below face value, and the event – despite a population cap increase, and being billed as “sold out” by BMOrg literally up to the last minute, with signs on the highway before Gerlach – was actually down in attendance on the previous year.

c) BMOrg later revealed that they were deliberately targeting newcomers in their algorithms, and rejecting long-time Burners instead. Census stats revealed 40% of 2013 Burners were first-timers, and 70% were 3 or fewer Burns

d) Larry Harvey came out after the event and said “scalpers aren’t a problem, and never were”. From the official blog, Dec 14, 2012:

As things stand now, participants are free to bestow tickets on their friends, lovers, campmates or family members — on anyone who they believe should come to the event. This form of ticket distribution often occurs spontaneously and is independent of any authorizing agency. It is an extension of the gift giving ethic that informs our culture. Furthermore, the chief argument advanced in support of identity-based ticketing is that such a system prevents profiteering by scalpers. But we have found that little more than 1% of ticket sales can be attributed to scalping in 2012. Even in the face of scarcity, a vast majority of ticket buyers appear to have honored a social compact that values persons over profit. Burning Man is an experiment in community, and in 2013 we will continue to invest our faith in that community.

[Editor’s Note: If you do sell your ticket, we ask that you sell it at face value, and if you’re buying one, to find one to purchase at face value.]

Koolaid manScribe’s investigation of the Spark movie, and our subsequent deeper analysis, suggested that the entire lottery situation was artificially contrived for the documentary, which BMOrg had partially funded and was receiving royalties from. The “non-profit transition” was seen as too complicated and boring for viewers, so some dramatic tension was required. This particular controversy created the (false) impression that Burning Man was sold out, and that there were at least three times as many people who wanted to go, than could.

This year, I have been wondering what is going on. Almost everyone I know who plans on going this year, does not yet have a ticket. They are waiting for STEP, which last year came through in the end for most people in the queue. Yet, stories of people actually getting tickets and vehicle passes on STEP are few and far between on the Interwebz.

In my conspiracy-minded thinking, I assumed this was because BMOrg insiders were holding out to sell their allocated tickets, a nice little “cash on the side”, wink-wink nudge-nudge bonus for volunteers and those who showed loyalty to the borg. After a while, the unsold tickets would get washed recycled through the STEP system.

In fact, it’s much worse than that. The Burning Man Project themselves are now the scalpers.

burners against scalpersIf you return a ticket on STEP, not all of your money gets refunded. You will take a small loss on transaction and STEP fees. Burners have been told that “this is the Burnier-than-thou way”, that “true” Burners don’t try to make money off their tickets. Now, it seems that BMOrg wants to try to sell that ticket for $650, and keep the difference for themselves – and keep Burners waiting in STEP while they try.

Right now secondary market prices are $880 for tickets and $220 for vehicle passes on Stubhub.

You would be better off to sell the $380 ticket yourself for $880, make a donation to BMP of $250, and you would have made a profit of $250. BMOrg gets a bonus, unconditional donation, and Burners get paid the same amount. What’s wrong with that? Why does BMOrg need to hog ALL the scalper profit themselves? Is it “because it’s a non-profit”, that somehow makes this OK?

In the comments to our recent story on the 2013 Afterburn Report, Burner Dijon pointed out that charity and non-profit are not the same thing:

 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!

To which I replied:

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.

money burningSo, just because it’s a non-profit, doesn’t automatically mean that it is philanthropic or altruistic and intends to give Gift any of the money it raises to outsiders. Who knows what manner of rapacious greed can now be justified in the name of “non-profits”. Selling merchandise, new taxes, royalties, lawsuits, $7 million on accountants and lawyers, and now scalping – what new money-making scheme will BMOrg come up with next?

Always, it is the Burners that suffer from this. Some Burners say “I don’t care, $380 is cheap for an 8-day event”. Maybe so, but in that case why not just put tickets up to $500? Why the subterfuge, the “please be discreet, don’t share this on social media”? Why do Burners have to wait anxiously wondering if they’re going to get a ticket, while BMOrg tries to scalp as many as they can for higher prices? This is not a regular event like Coachella, where the promoters have to pay the talent. Burners are the talent, and the more of it we give to BMOrg, the more they try to take from us next time.

I suspect this $650 initiative will be a flop, there will be a whole bunch of tickets released through STEP in about a month, and there will be tickets available up to the last minute. I warn you, though, that I am “belching my usual brand of soapbox speculation” here – if I’m wrong, then $650 is cheap to get a $880 ticket. Especially if you can still buy $220 vehicle passes for $40 when you get it. Give Steve a call, and support the Burning Man Project and all the good it does in the world.

I am curious, readers. Did you contribute any tickets to STEP? Did you get any STEP tickets?

44 comments on “BREAKING! BurniLeaks: The New Scalpers

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  17. I bet all written communication between members in any conspiracy contains the disclaimer, “kindly do not post about it on social or traditional media.” Seems totally legit…

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  22. first year we headed out they talked about transitioning to a non-profit & we thought everything would get cheaper, money would go out to build the world like it should be.

    Now every year feels more & more like fighting to get out there in spite of the borg & hordes of noveau riche they’re catering to. Utterly disappointing.

  23. >transformative spirit of Burning Man

    For a long time, BMorg allowed other people to imply that BM and spirituality go hand in hand; that BM is an alternative to religion. Larry & Co stayed away from that kind of discussion. But now it looks like they’re ramping up the spirituality rhetoric, and on the BM blog there are many articles about religion and spirituality ATM.

    I think someone recognized that there’s a big dollar to be made in directly associating BM with spirituality, and that participation (free labor) leads to enlightenment. The ‘spiritual but not religious’ types eat that up, and when it comes directly from BMorg, it has more of an influence.

  24. I’ve been reflecting lately about how much I enjoy being at the burns. Unfortunately, the understanding of how much profit is being taken from what feels like a pure experience leads me to have conflicted feelings. I’m thinking now about getting rid of my ticket. That being said -> To be fair about the price, once you add the fees to ship it is nearly $400. I’d lose ~$17 if I sold mine for $380. Maybe just another way to get a few extra buck, but I wouldn’t fault someone for asking for $397…

    • By first approximation, historically, the BOrg. et. al., take no less than 50% overhead and profit from the ticket fee over the hard costs to make the event happen. If you paid $397 in direct hard cost to have the ticket to sell, why should you not have the same overhead and profit? Seriously!

      The BOrg invocation to sell tickets at face value is the duplicity that I cannot swallow. Why can’t they sell BM tix for $199? They want to be paid for their time and the opportunity cost. Why can’t you be paid for the same?

  25. Would do Juplaya but can’t so will try to make it to the burn. With the world cup going on it seems like you could make a comparison between BMORG and FIFA. They are both non profits….

  26. Very thought-provoking theory about Spark and so on. But I’m not convinced that there’s any funneling of money here to anything besides art grants around the world.

  27. A test for determination of if the supplier of your Burning Man news ladles the Kool Aid, or, might it honourably facilitate discussion of differing facts, post a link to this article, and, title your post, Burning Man Tickets Available.

    burnersxxx, awesome article. You have priorly posted in regards towards the BMOrg scalping tickets, by the side door, for more cash than they paid from their pockets, awesome proof. Kudos.

    In the same view as Nomad, upon my BMOrg cash out post, we made the determination to transmit my tickets to our friends.

    • Thanks! Kudos really has to go to the tipster who shared it, thanks very much to them.

      Burning Man will survive the corporate takeover, and Burner culture will thrive outside the yoke of the suits.Myspace used to be hip! I hear it’s coming back again…

      time for something NEW!

    • read the fine print Larry…it says “This is a short-term initiative about which we are being discreet; kindly do not post about it on social or traditional media”

      ….we’re anti-social and non-traditional. And we’re not the media. Also the receipient never posted about it, they just forwarded BMOrg’s email to me.

  28. True, if people who don’t use STEP enter a poll about their experiences with STEP, it may lead to inaccurate results. Also, if people lie, it might make the poll results distorted. That’s ok though, because this is a blog about a dance party, not the presidential elections or anything.

  29. The second poll is invalid because there is not a “I didn’t use STEP” response, so most of those in that category are going to click “no.”

  30. I guess the main point is: I have been to a Burn before; therefore I am no longer welcome. Too busy planning my theme camp elsewhere anyway – I like the whole recurring community thing and that means veterans return.

    Goodbye, and thanks for all the soured milk!

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