Where Does Your Ticket Money Go?

The Reno-Gazette Journal pretends to answer this question, by pointing to a “new announcement today” from BMOrg analyzing this very topic. How was this announced, and to whom? It seems it only made it to their Facebook page. I can’t see it in the last “Jackrabbit Speaks”, it is not mentioned on the official Burning Man blog, and there is no link to it from the “What is Burning Man” section it is filed in. There is nothing on the burningman.com web site, and it doesn’t come up in a search there for “where does ticket money go”. The page seems to be an orphan on their site, and for some reason is immune to any form of public comment on it.

From the Reno Gazette Journal:

caravansary ticket 2Burning Man announced today where ticket sales money goes to shed light on why tickets cost what they do.

…According to the announcement, the majority the cost of ticket sales goes to fees, equipment rental (including portable toilets), medical services and building the large wooden man structure.

The full report can be found here.

The following are some of the costs Burning Man said it incurred in 2013:

Bureau of Land Management (BLM) manages the land the event is held on: 2013 fees totaled $4,522,952;

If you want the full report, you should actually read our coverage: Profit Grows, Donations Shrink: 2013 Afterburn Analysis; and Art World Rocked which shows the distributions of grants based on IRS filings. You can also check out this Google Docs spreadsheet that Burner Kevin put together from the Afterburn numbers (which don’t even add correctly in their 2011 and 2012 reports).

banksy repeat a lieWhat is interesting here is the subtle use of language to mask truth. The carefully chosen words “BLM and Other Usage Fees” are repeated and slightly distorted, through a technique sometimes called “Chinese whispers”, to become “BLM manages the event…2013 fees”.

The misinformation has already been picked up by Ron’s Log and echoed as if it were fact “$4.5 million…that’s what Burning Man paid the Bureau of Land Management in fees”.

Following the links to the “full report” actually takes you to the new discussion using numbers taken from the Afterburn report. This says:

The Black Rock Desert is public land, but we don’t get to use it for free. It also takes a lot of equipment and hours of labor to put things together out there. The following are just a few highlights of costs we incurred in 2013:

  • The space we use is managed by the Bureau of Land Management (BLM) and our 2013 fees to them totaled $4,522,952.
  • Our 2013 cost for Rental Equipment (heavy machinery, portable buildings, staff radio gear, cars and trucks) came to $1,166,307.
  • Port-o-potties are crucial for our fair city and those related costs alone racked up to $970,836.
  • To offset the impact that our temporary population has on emergency services in the local area, we pay $301,660 to local agencies such as county law enforcement, Paiute Nation, and Nevada Highway Patrol.
  • We still take care of our own though, and our on-playa medical services costs came to $455,024.
  • Getting tickets printed and shipped is also a nice chunk of change, coming in at $479,741 last year.
  • Building our iconic center piece, The Man, isn’t cheap either. Last year we spent $407,055 to bring it to life and share the ritual of burning it down.
  • The other “Man” — the government — likes his cut as well and we paid $1,021,851 last year in taxes and other licensing fees.

Seems innocuous enough, right? Well the reason that the word “other” is significant in the original report is that in 2013, this category jumped from $1.8m to $4.5m – with no explanation given for the gigantic leap ($2,654,919 gain). “Taxes and Licenses” jumped from $154,994 to $1,021,851, also without explanation ($866,857 gain). At the same time, “Decommodification LLC owns the rights to everything” (or words to that effect) is now on all the tickets. Coincidence? Well the fact that BMOrg is trying to gloss over it by using increasingly vague language makes that seem even less likely.

From Burners.Me:

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

Now, perhaps the BLM did almost triple their rates, and Decommodification gets next to nothing. Strangely, it’s not mentioned in this year’s permit – which says BLM gets 3% of gross revenue, same as every other year. This would be $900,000 according to Marian’s $30 million figure from her recent speech in Tokyo. Page 8 of the Permit Stipulations says they have to pay a “cost recovery fee” to reimburse the BLM’s costs, which have been offset by integrating their activities with Pershing County cops. This probably doesn’t change much from 2012 (56,141 tickets) to 2014 (61,000 tickets), so if we assume it is the same we can ignore it. That leaves $3.5 million of “other” fee hikes to account for: let’s call those “mystery royalties”.

Does some of your ticket money go to Decommodification, LLC? Yes – look at your ticket terms. Is this payment covered by “Mystery Royalties”? Well, we can’t find it anywhere else in their books, so probably. Does most of the Mystery Royalties go to the BLM? I doubt that, but I’m open to the possibility. I invite BMOrg to open their books and share with the community the details of the “BLM and Other Usage Fees” payments, to clear the air and ensure that everyone is speaking from a position of truth and openness. If all of that money goes to the BLM, why would BMOrg even write the words “and Other Usage Fees” on their Afterburn Report? Why not just say “BLM”?

This is what you’ve agreed to in the Ticket Terms and Conditions:

caravansary ticketI acknowledge that the name “Burning Man” is a trademark owned by Decommodification LLC and licensed to BRC, and that BRC LLC has been given the sole right to license and enforce that trademark, and that all of Burning Man’s logos, trademarks or other intellectual property are owned by Decommodification LLC and licensed to BRC, and I understand that these two organizations control all rights regarding the licensing and reproduction of any imagery recorded at the Event. I agree that I will not use the mark “Burning Man,” the logos of Decommodification LLC or BRC LLC, or the likeness, drawings or representations of the Man or of the Black Rock City map, or any other trademark of Decommodification LLR or BRC, on any website (except for Personal Use, as described in Paragraph 5) or in any other manner, commercial or otherwise, except for nominative or classic fair use

The Reno-Gazette Journal might be fooled by your magic words, BMOrg, but not Burners.Me! We ask: “where’s the proof?”

Burning Man’s announcement compares their price to commercial festivals:

 The group said Burning Man ticket prices are comparable to other events, including the four-day Bonnaroo ($260, plus fees) and Coachella ($349, plus $85 car camping) festivals and the five-day Glastonbury event ($333.19, plus $40 car parking).

Good – they might keep the ticket prices where they are for next year, then. Those festivals generally pay for the entertainment they provide to their customers, who can buy food and drinks; and they have to pay for security and site use, just like Burning Man does.

Where does your ticket money go? $13.60 of it went to art in 2013. Compared to $52 to profit and $103 to taxes, fees, medical, cops, and royalties (lumped together). The mystery royalties component works out to more than half the latter: $57 a ticket.

We help artists, too. In 2013, we distributed $800,000 in grants to artists. For 2014, we increased that figure to $1 million in art grants and support

Art Grants in 2013 were $12,500 per project, down from $14,894 per project in 2012. $825,000 was the officially announced amount of grants in 2013, which was upped to $830,000 in the Afterburn report. Their claim of $1 million on Art Grants this year now includes “support” as well as cash, which as we’ve already pointed out has a large component of BMOrg personnel costs.  This year there are 60 winners who will share $16,666.66 each (including support) from BMOrg. If this was measured in cash, it would be a meteoric surge towards the artists, an increase of 33.3% on average each. Still a very small share of the cost to get big art projects on the Playa, and off without a trace.

When someone tells you “BLM charges $4.5 million a year for the permit”, ask them to prove it. Don’t believe something just because it’s in the newspapers. And always ask what “other” means.

More Math(s)

Our post 60% Veterans has generated some further discussion and analysis.

Hunter from the Official BRC Census (2012 variant) came to comment:

Hi there, here’s Hunter from the Census Lab. I’m one of the research collaborator and I’ve been in charge of the Census databases since 2012 (i.e., when we started correcting the Census for sampling biases by doing a random sampling of burners at the gate during ingress). I won’t comment in details, but here’s a brief summary of my point of view on the subject.
The question is quite interesting (is there a bias towards virgins?), but, as mentioned above, the math/s are wrong. There is indeed a large proportion of newbies at BM (more or less between 30% and 40% every year, at least for the recent years) and I was surprised to see that at the beginning.
However, it is totally impossible to estimate the probability of getting a ticket without knowing how many veterans vs newbies tried to get a ticket. Also, you seem to believe that veterans (3+y) try to go every year if they can, but this is not what we see in the Census. Even if we take into account only the years before tickets went sold out, the Census data suggest that most veterans skipped one or more years. It might not be the case for highly involved veterans like you or those around you, though.
Also, we have to take into account the fact that the publicity that BM got in the recent years due to some viral videos, documentaries and media coverage probably increased extremely the number of non-burners who would like to go to BM “at least once”.
If we had access to the burner profile database (and no, I don’t have that kind of access), it might be possible to estimate the probability of getting a ticket as a fonction of number of playa years, but I don’t see how it could be done from the Census data.
All in all, I’m not convinced by the data that the probability of getting a ticket if one wants a ticket is higher for newbies than it is for veterans, especially if we take into account a few elements such as:
– the growing number of interested non-burners
– the continuously increasing population in BRC
– the fact that veterans rarely come every year (especially “older” vets)
Also, IF the probabilities are skewed as you suggests, the Org is not necessary the culprit. Lets just remember that a very strong tradition in the BM culture is ticket gifting. Thus, veterans will often provide a ticket to a virgin friend to let them experience the event. Such a tradition definitely skews probability in favor of virgins by providing some of them with an easy access to a ticket, or at least a second chance to get one.

Finally, I’ll add a simple correction to your text. Your argument about BIG data suggests that the info collected via the Census, the burner profile and other Org-related projects end up in a big database in which everything can be analyzed and cross-referenced, but it’s hardly the case, at least for the Census. I’m not part of the Org, so I cannot tell what they do with the burner profile info. However, the Census data are kept separate from any other database and no email is in the database. The Census Lab provides the Org with the Census results, but the Census databases are under the responsibility of the Census Lab to insure a strict confidentiality of the data and respondents.

So, thanks for the topic, it looks like it sparked an interesting discussion. I hope that these clarifications were useful. If anyone of you wants to continue the discussion on playa, you are welcome to drop by the Census Lab (10:00 and Inner circle) and ask for Hunter.

Now just because someone affiliated with BMOrg says “you’re wrong”, doesn’t mean we’re wrong, as readers of this blog should know by now. Since my response got quite long, I’m making a post out of it.

Thanks for coming here to comment Hunter. The whole Burner community benefits from public discourse like this! We presume that helping the community is the reason why this data is being provided by Burners, and collected by your group and BMOrg – and why your group volunteers your time for free to help Burners understand the implications.

You dismsissed our post by saying “the math is wrong”, without any further explanation. I’m going to point out how your reasoning is wrong.

1. The last 3 years of Virgin data are 47%, 37%, 40%. I’m using this to say “40% Virgins”. I am not making that prediction just from 2 years of your census data, I am also making it from my analysis that “the Census data shows something more is going on here than random chance”.

2. You are responsible for the last two data sets, which are both under the new ticketing system. If this year’s data set also shows 40% virgins, this will be more evidence of something going on. Coincidences can’t just keep happening again and again the same way, at some point you have to wonder “maybe the data is being skewed somehow and this is not just random chance”. Who is responsible for the overall collection and analysis of Burning Man data, then? Because, they’re sure collecting a truckload of it.

3. Could you provide more details of how you bias the sample? Could the sampling bias of the gate survey have an impact on the 40% virgins? How large was the sample size for 2012 and 2013? Here’s what we have:

There was an inherent self-selection bias in past surveys
• 2012 complemented census with a random sampling at the gate
• Random sample allowed them to weight the collected data
• Variables used to weight the 2012 Census:
– Gender
– Age
– Are you a Virgin?
– Foreign
– English Speaker
– US Party Affiliation

How was this done? What was the difference in numbers of the “Are you a Virgin” question between the gate census and the Center Camp census? What does US Party Affiliation have to do with Census results?

4. You state “it is totally impossible to estimate ticket probability without knowing number of newbies trying and number of veterans trying”. You also admit you have no access to the database information from the Burner Profiles. So, if profile data was being used – algorithmically or manually – to influence the number of Virgins at the party, how would you be in a position to know, any more than we are? Are you saying “it is totally impossible that Burners who answer NEVER in their profile have an increased chance of getting a ticket”? No, you’re not. You’re actually saying “assuming this is all random chance, we need these numbers to make our prediction more accurate”. My entire post is saying “I don’t think this is random chance”.

5. I agree that estimating an attrition rate for veterans should be applied. Another commenter Cupcake has suggested 20%, which I am happy to run with. Your comment that “the two years of data I’m looking at from gate surveys of the new ticketing system say veterans don’t want to go back”, is analysis based on flawed reasoning. It could very well show that either a) veterans don’t care about completing your survey so much, or b) the system is skewed to prevent veterans from getting tickets, so they never arrive. How else can you know what the intentions of the 659,000 veterans were towards getting tickets?

6. You then say that “even looking at the years before, veterans skip years” – this may be true for some Veterans, but the population of Veterans is always growing.

7. You take BMOrg’s line that YouTube videos and media coverage have led to exploding newbie demand. From the earliest survey data we have, 2001, media coverage was the biggest reason people heard about BM (after Word of Mouth and Other). Despite what BM says on the ticket terms and conditions “The organization does little to solicit attention from television or media companies…and does not seek to artificially grow the event itself by exposure through the mass media”…BMOrg employs multiple PR people specifically for this purpose. The exposure has included Malcolm in the Middle, South Park, the Daily Show, Bloomberg and the Wall Street Journal, Town and Country and Vogue – all long before 2012. Mass media promotion seems to be a constant factor.

I note that when they first started this lottery thing, which was at the height of the YouTube and media blitz, the population of BRC actually dropped from the previous year – presumably because Veterans gave up when they couldn’t get tickets, and this had a ripple effect through the community. You’d think it would’ve continued to be a sold out event, if there was a massive population of Virgins wanting to go.

8. “The culture of gifting encourages people to give tickets to newbies”. I’ll concede that you could be right, but it’s hard to say how much of a factor this truly is. This is an area where it would be great to have the Burner Profile data. To me, it doesn’t sufficiently explain “a jump to 40% Virgins for the last 3 years in a row”. If anything, it would suggest that the Virgin percentage would have been much higher years ago, when the Veteran population was smaller (since you’re implying Veterans bring Virgins, and also Virgins bring Virgins).

9. You say that “data doesn’t end up in a big database”; at the same time you admit you don’t have access to BMOrg’s databases, and you don’t know what they do with the data once you provide it to them.

If less Veterans want to go because all BMOrg’s rules and procedures and new ticketing ideas have a negative effect on their motivation to return, this doesn’t change my point – the ticket sales are being manipulated to discourage Veterans and encourage Virgins. It would just be a different method, death by culture rather than death by algorithm.

bm shark jumpingWho is more motivated to create profiles and jump through all these hoops to get a ticket, Virgins, or Veterans? Maybe the veteran attrition rate is increasing, as “jumping the shark” becomes a catchphrase and publications like Salon and Vanity Fair proclaim “Burning Man is dead” – this makes Virgins want to go even more, and Veterans want to go even less. My personal view is that most people who make it out to Burning Man like it, and want to return. Hunter is right that maybe my bias is skewed by knowing a lot of Burners and writing a blog for Burners.

If there are always more Virgins who want to go than Veterans, then the ticket distribution will always be trending higher towards Virgins. Veterans is always growing, minus the attrition rate. This means that the number of Virgins who want to go each year has to be growing by more than the Veteran population, to keep the proportions the same. Virgins is growing, attribute that to media if you want, but surely there is a peak – not every person in the world wants to go to Burning Man. It seems like when they first started the lottery, more Veterans wanted to go than Virgins, and that is why the annual population shrank. In 2014, is Virgins who want to go, growing faster than Veterans who want to go? Will the growth rate of the former group slow down this year, because there wasn’t a Dr Seuss video?

One interpretation of the data could be “veterans are souring on the event, and their population is naturally declining, being replaced by Virgins”. However, I’m not making that interpretation. Mine is “Virgins are somehow deliberately being favored in the ticket allocation”. The most likely way I can see to influence that would be using the Burner profile information where you are specifically asked if you’re a Virgin, and if not to indicate all the years you attended.

We look forward to seeing the Census data from 2014.

60% Veterans [Updates]

This is going to be one of those long posts with words and graphs and maths and stuff. Ain’t no place for haters here. You might want to keep browsing if you’re looking for happy frou frou stories. If you feel the urge to comment on this post, please do me the courtesy of reading it first.

A few people have been asking us questions after the “OMG Lottery? More Vehicle Passes” post.

Andrew said:

60% are veterans. That’s the single biggest group. One of your commentors has been pushing the theory that BMORG is purposely denying tickets to veterans. Are you buying into that theory now? It’s crazy. There’s no evidence for it, and clear evidence against it.

BMORG wants money. Veterans make the event into what it is. Why would BMORG threaten their revenue by turning away the people who produce the event? BMORG doesn’t turn vets away; they “directly distributed” 15k tickets to people making the event happen (no, being a vet isn’t technically a requirement for getting a DD ticket, but you do need an existing connection to the burner community to get one, so they almost all go to vets).

BMOrg have a sold out event (except for these 3000 or so tickets). Their revenue doesn’t change whether it’s veterans or newbies. What Andrew’s saying makes sense on the face of it: veterans bring more to the event. But the numbers from BMOrg don’t bear it out. Something else is at play here. You call our theories “crazy”, well please consider this theory before you dismiss it.

We’ve written extensively about the World’s Biggest Guest List and its lack of transparency. This makes BMOrg’s elite sub-group that decides who those 15,000 tickets get offered to: the World’s Biggest Door Bitch. It’s a party of 70,000 people, and they get to choose who gets to come and where they get “placed” to live for a week. They get to make VIPS out of at least 15,000 of them. Who’s in, who’s out. What’s true, what’s false. I can’t think of another party in the world of that size where that can occur. Certainly not any rave or club or casino or stadium, this is bigger than all of those. An entire city of ravers. Yes, yes, and hippies, venture capitalists, etc…

These tickets might go to Art Cars and Theme Camps, but that doesn’t guarantee they’re going to Veterans. Sparkle Ponies are good at Burning Man, Art Car owners desire them. They meet them in the Default World and entice them to come and experience Burning Man with tickets and all kinds of other lures. Better to think of these 15,000 tickets as VIP tickets than Veteran Tickets.

Truth is not relative, it’s truth. Opinions and perspectives may differ, but facts are facts. I have put a lot of time into researching the facts that I write on this blog. If you hear otherwise, come here and ask me about that.

In the interest of truth and facts, then, I would like to address Andrew’s question, and why I made the claim that statistically you have the best chance of getting tickets if your Burner Profile says you’ve never been before.

BMOrg too have put a lot of time and money into researching the facts. Since 2001, Maid Marian – who runs Burning Man, despite what Larry’s recent “con sensus hier-archy of power” post describes – has conducted a census. Not just any old quiz, like you see on web sites or Facebook or the bottom of this page. A full, scientific research effort, pushed on hundreds of thousands of people over more than a decade, and conducted and analyzed with the involvement of many of the world’s top Universities. Anthropology, sociology, statistics, theology, game theorybusiness management, social engineering – these departments and many more have studied Burning Man’s Census results and found them sufficiently credible to use them in doctoral papers.

Now there’s a whole web site dedicated to these Census results, and a team of lab-coated volunteers collecting them. It’s kind of fascinating –  blackrockcensus.wordpress.com

They are the source of the data I am using in relation to ticket probability:

2014 virginpop



2012 36.499% Virgins

2013 39.999% Virgins





What Are the Odds?


This means 71% have been to 0, 1, or 2 Burns. To me, this category are the “newbies”. Once you have 3 under your belt, veteran is kind of a stretch but for the sake of simplicity in this post, let’s agreer to say it’s newbies (71%) versus 3+ veterans (29%).

Coming back to the point about statistical probability of being able to buy tickets. Let’s look at the Number of Burns data from this graph.

0: 40%

1: 20%

2: 11%

3: 7%

4: 7%

5: 2%

6: 2%

7: 2%



10: 1%

11 or more: 3%

I have taken the liberty of splitting the grouped years into individual estimates, so we can compare the numbers. They might differ slightly in actuality (3 could be 10% and 4 could be 4%), it’s not enough to be significant.

Consider this list your odds of getting a ticket, based on how many burns you say you’ve been to.

If it’s a lottery, if it’s pure chance, then it shouldn’t make any difference. However, statistical theory suggests there is a Normal Distribution.

The actual number seems to be significantly skewed in favor of Virgins, and against Veterans. If you’ve never been before, you have a better chance of getting a ticket than all of the people combined who’ve been 3+ times.

number-of-burns-image-1 2013

Pretty much 80% of the people at Cargo Cult had only been going since 2009-2010. And a mere 3% went before the year 2000. Less than 20% were going to Burning Man in 2007 or earlier.

Perhaps you could read these statistics and pass them off by saying “once you’ve been more than 3 times, you don’t want to go any more”.

As someone who has been 11 times, and knows hundreds of people who have been more than 3 times, I can assure you that is not the case. Sure, our desire to go tapers off somewhat  – but once you’ve been 3 times, you’re a Burner, dude. You are one of these people who goes to Burning Man, rather than “Oh, Burning Man. I went to that once”. If you only went once, you probably didn’t get it.

So technically, yes – if 40% are Virgins, then 60% must be “veterans”. If “veterans” means “3 or more times”, not “once or twice”, then it’s 29%.

Something to note is that it has been 40% Virgins the last 2 years, since Burning Man changed their ticketing system into this Lottery/STEP thing we have now. It’s about the same split each year- which I think is indicative that the statistical spread for 2014 will be similar. If they publish the results, then time will prove this prediction right or wrong.

When I say ticketing system, I’m not just talking about the web software for buying tickets, their selection algorithms or the 18+ different databases Burning Man uses to keep track of all this Big Data Radical Profiling. “The system” is the entire, multi-stage, Byzantine process that Burners are forced to go through just to attend their favorite event. This faux exclusiveness is frustrating, rather than cool. Time consuming, rather than efficient. And disheartening for the faithful.

Wondering all year, “will I be one of the lucky ones! Will my place in the queue come up? I want a ticket, I don’t have one yet. I’m wondering if I’m going to go this year or not” … This has now evolved to a system where everyone is forced to do the census to try to buy tickets. This is programmed by the social engineers with the power to stake out the flags in our city, and the software engineers who implement their instructions.

If you want to buy tickets you have to create a Burner Profile, even for those on the 15,000 strong VIP List. They made use of Promo Codes to provide access to the earlier released tickets, which helps profile even further – if you use a code, BMOrg know which VIP host you are a guest of. We know that they were trying to sell tickets to favored insiders and camps for $650, which included $250 going to the Burning Man Project.

black rock city censusThe lab coated census-takers and the inquisitive computer brains behind them who are profiling us, can also assess their own penetration and popularity within each theme camp. Who rushed to buy tickets, who was not so quick, which codes didn’t get used til later in the year. This sort of Big Data insight is available by cross-referencing email address with camp member lists. They know who’s in what camp, and they can then look at the composition of newbies/veterans across entire camps. This type of information could be used to decide “yes/no” in terms of who’s in or out to individuals, groups, or entire camps at a time. It could also be used to inform camp placement. There are more than 1000 theme camps distributed across Black Rock City.

To get a ticket for Caravansary now, once you have created a Burner Profile, you have to log into BMOrg’s web site at 12:00:00 Pacific Time next Wednesday, August 6 2014. Now, if 50,000 people log into Amazon at the same time and buy the same e-book, Amazon won’t even blink. But Burning Man is not Amazon, as far as we know. In the past, this kind of time-synchronized economic action has created quite a load for BMOrg’s web site, and the software systems underneath it. Buying tickets at High Noon was a Wild West standoff – the quicker you were on the draw, the greater your chances to get a ticket. We heard stories of Burners who had bought a ticket at 12:07 and others who had missed out at 12:04. Some who closed their browser, cleared their cache, or even rebooted their computer, were able to get in at 12:19 and get tickets. Most, though, were trying to get into Burning Man’s lottery system for 20 minutes or more, missed out and had to wait in the STEP queue. The system seemed to work pretty well from a Burner perspective, as one Burner sold a ticket into STEP, a waiting Burner received a ticket.

2014 has been a little different. The public release of 38,000 tickets sold out in 44 minutes. BMOrg reported 2500 tickets sold back to STEP by Burners, 1500 tickets sold to Burners  through STEP, and 1000 tickets added to the OMG sale instead of sold to people in the STEP queue. This took the OMG total to 3000 available tickets. So many people were still waiting in STEP that they had to say “don’t bother signing up” earlier than expected.

Only 2.1% of this year’s Burners got their tickets through STEP, so it does not seem very effective – unless the objective is actually shaping that 40% Virgins number.

Why do this? Did they take a look at the queue, and decide there were too many “undesirables” waiting there?

Patience for months in STEP resulted in nothing to most people, except for a lucky 1500 or so who got tickets. Everyone else was waiting in vain, hoping to win an email that would let them buy a ticket.  It’s kind of frustrating, although of course it can be fixed at any time by buying a premium priced ticket on the secondary market.

All through the year, tickets have been available on the secondary market. So this is really about Burners who don’t want to pay above face value $650, or support scalpers – that’s who has been waiting in STEP. I’m sure this list includes many who could afford the $850 Stubhub price, but are hoping for a better option. After OMG, that’s it – secondary market is the only hope. The big question for the scalpers right now is, how many tickets are going to be sold in OMG? 3000? Or a lot more? The number of tickets and vehicle passes available on Stubhub is continuing to increase, and prices are volatile but clearly trending down.

Why is there so much profiling, and so many processes? Why so many delays this year, with tickets, with placement, with announcements? Whatever’s going on at BMOrg all year before the party happens, if it’s good, why does everything have to be so complicated, and changeable? If the answer is “there’s nothing going on behind the scenes”, well, that’s not so good either. They should be doing something with all our dollars. If they are doing something: is it being done for us, with us, or on us?

What benefit is it possibly serving, at this point? Please offer any explanations you have in the comments.

When you fill out your Burner profile, as well as the conventional name and address details they ask you:

  • Playa Name (thus defeating the purpose of anonymity of a pseudonym)
  • Organization/Company
  • Title
  • Which Years Have You Attended (Check all Boxes from Never to 1986)
  • Projects and Affiliations, which is any of:
  • Mutant Vehicle
    Art Installation
    Regional/Year-Round Event
    Regional Community
    Burners Without Borders (BWB)
    Black Rock Arts Foundation (BRAF)
    Black Rock Solar (BRS)
    Burning Man Project
    Published Media or Educational
    Theme Camp

And you are asked to describe this in further detail – the “rich text” version of the profile. I bet some people write essays here.

From this Big Data they can calculate all kinds of graphs and reports on the whole population. How many Burners are Facebook vs Google employees? How many work for tech companies, how many work for colleges? The possibilities are endless.

You have to answer their questions and provide required data before you are in a position to buy a ticket. Even once you’ve completed it, you are not guaranteed that you will get a ticket to the event. Not all of the data is not compulsory, and some Burners would prefer to remain anonymous – which is telling in itself. I’m sure most would think “it’s Burning Man, I want to be part of the community” and fill it out. In which case a detailed profile of who you are and what camps and art cars you are affiliated with gets fed into the databases of BMOrg.

Decision A: What happens to all this data in terms of ticketing?

There are a few options:

1. It has no relevance to whether or not you can get a ticket

2. There is a statistically discernible pattern, which suggests this years’s ticket spread will be much like last years

3. There are one or more parameters set by the system, which, when cross-referenced with the data in the Burner profile, will influence your chances of getting a ticket.

4. Your “In/Out” decision is determined manually, by a team of insiders representing the World’s Biggest Door Bitch.

I’m sure there are more options than that but I’m trying to keep this simple. If you have other ideas though, please suggest them in the comments.

What happens the second the OMG sale opens?

It may be possible that all attempted OMG transactions process simultaneously. Or, the servers might give an overload message, so you have to try to connect again. Even if you get into the web site, you have to get through the e-commerce too until the credit card transaction is confirmed with everyone’s banks. Maybe all of that will work smoothly and glitch free, let’s hope so. Let us know how you get on, if you’re entering the OMG sale.

The next problem occurs from the limited number of tickets: officially, 3000 that are being offered in OMG. It seems that there are more than that who want to buy tickets at face value of $380.

So how does BMOrg’s system figure out how to distribute the last remaining tickets across all the Burners, if more are trying to log on than there are tickets?

Decision B: How does supply and demand get resolved by the system?

The options are:

  1. First Come, First Served. The system just runs until all the remaining tickets have been processed, then stops
  2. No-one has figured it out and we’ll find out when it happens
  3. There are one or more parameters set by the system, which, when cross-referenced with the profile, influence the decision
  4. There are WAY more than 3000 extra tickets, they’re going to sell tickets to whoever wants them, so no-one’s worried

The thing that makes me think it is Option 3 in both Decision cases A and B, is because two years in a row we have “40%” Virgins in both 2012 and 2013, the first time this has happened before. This uncanny and unprecedented statistical similarity coincides with the first time the ticket system has been controlled in this new manner. This is discussed in the movie Spark: A Burning Man Story for anyone who is interested in the back story, and also in our post commenting on Scribe’s coverage relating to this movie at the SF Bay Guardian: The Spark of Controversy.

If someone has decided that they want fresh blood at Burning Man, then they must have a way of implementing that. Either that or they are very, very good at magic, and just wished it into being from the aether. Miraculously, it just worked out that way, twice three times in a row(2011 Virgins: 47%), the same way. Let’s see if they can make it a 4-way for 2014

In my opinion, someone feeds the machine the parameters, tells it “this is the Burners we want” – and that’s who gets through all the hurdles and hoops and gates, winning the lottery means they get a chance to buy tickets. I don’t believe it’s pure chance, and I think there’s more to it than “First Come First Served”. Clearly, waiting in line in STEP didn’t mean you were going to get a ticket as soon as one was sold back through STEP, so at the very least – that aspect of the ticketing system has changed.

The Bottom Line

Being in STEP you had a 2.1% chance of getting a ticket, if you’re a virgin there was a 40% chance you were able to find a ticket this year, and in OMG the chances are 4.2%. If you’re a veteran, your chances are 29%. When you look at 27, 841 veterans against  657,493 people who have attended the party to date, it’s 4.2%.

Good luck Burners!

The proof is in the pudding, and the statistical distribution for 2014 should be telling. BMOrg knows already, of course – at least, for 67,000 of their 70,000 tickets – 95.7%.

Based on the past 2 years of this OMGSTEP system, it seems that if your Burner profile says “NEVER” you have a 40% chance of getting a ticket, the next highest number 1 has a 20% chance, anything else your chances are significantly diminished. Of course, past performance is no guarantee of future performance, as Nassim Taleb always says. His definition of ethics BTW is “if you see fraud, and don’t shout fraud, you are a fraud”. Don’t get fooled by randomness.


[Update 8/1/14 12:13pm]

Based on questions from Burners who read this post, I’ve done some further digging. BMOrg does not publish consistent Census results each year, but there is a lot of information there. Why does BMOrg not publish some data for certain years? One reason could be because it doesn’t portray the image they want to craft out of these numbers. For example 2008 and 2009 are the only years income data is missing – the years when that probably skewed lower, due to the Global Financial Crisis.

To the question “What is your personal income”, the answer “$100,000 or more” has been on a steady upwards trend. In 2003 it was the smallest group, at 10%; in 2013 it was the largest, at 20%. The numbers support our earlier observation that Burning Man is becoming a party for rich people – and possibly demonstrate that Virgins are bigger earners than Veterans, in our new “sharing” economy.

To the question “What was the percentage of Virgins in previous years?” Only limited data is available pre lottery, and it varies wildly – which is what you would expect, if it were purely random

2011 – 47% Virgins

2010 – 22% Virgins

2007 – 33% Virgins

 [Update 1=8/1/14 1:08pm]

Thanks to commenter A Balanced Perspective for reminding us that the 2012 and 2013 data results were adjusted for sampling bias.

The level of analysis that goes into this, using 10-13 years of census data, seems to be high, and pretty academically sound. The sample sets are very large, compared to the overall population. The percentage of veterans who want to go but can’t, is highly likely to increase each year by thousands, maybe tens of thousands. I wonder how many Regionals are now in this position too?

Not everyone trades the stock market based on what the chart tells them, but many take that seriously, just as many take astrology seriously. Is past performance a predictor of future behavior? “Coming soon”…

[Update 8/2/14 12:21pm] Hunter from BRC Census has commented on this post. Continuing the discussion and analysis here: More Math(s)