All We Want For Chri$tma$ Is Your Money [Update]

image: Susan Averello/Flickr (Creative Commons)

image: Susan Averello/Flickr (Creative Commons)

Remember Burning Man? That unique experimental city, free from the commodification of commercial transactions? Well, now that the owners have transferred it into a complicated corporate combination of tax-free and for-profit companies, that seems to be a thing of the past.

Welcome to Burning Man 2.0 – where new revenue streams are the raison d’etre. The latest one? Taking a cut of our spending on Christmas presents. Taxing our gifting.

While most of us were enjoying our Thanksgiving turkeys, grateful to family and friends and counting our blessings, Burning Man’s Minister of Propaganda Will Chase was counting the cash. Looking at all the money that was about to be spent for “Black Friday” and “Cyber Monday”, and wondering – “how do we get a piece of that action?”

He posted at Voices of Burning Man a plea to use Amazon’s Smile feature, to divert funds away from needy charities and give it to BMOrg’s non-transparent non-profit.

The post immediately encountered criticism, and was quickly yanked from the site, replaced with a heartwarming Halcyon story about taking his Mom’s Virginity. One of our eagle-eyed readers spotted it and saved it. We wrote about it here: Boycott Commodification – Or Just Give Us Your Money.

We thought they pulled it because they realized it was a lousy move, and inconsistent with the Ten Principles. Taking a percentage of peoples’ Gifting, WTF? Sadly, though, it now seems to have been more about keeping negative comments off their precious new site.

Yesterday, they sent out a “Special Edition” of the Jackrabbit Speaks newsletter. Was it wishing us Season’s Greetings and a Merry Christmas? Was it thanking us for everything we’ve done for them over the years, all the art and talent and spectacle we’ve brought to the Playa, to help their Directors fill their Commodification Camps?

Nope. There’s not a Merry Christmas or Happy Hanukkah to be seen. Not even an invitation to buy above-face value tickets as Christmas gifts, to help the poor. It’s all about them.

This time, they sent it out as an email, no doubt to mute criticism of further acts of Commodification from a corporation that increasingly appears to be focused on the almighty dollar. It’s more of the same thing as before. “Give us your money. And give us a cut from your Christmas shopping too”:

Now is the time for Burning Man to grow its capacity to have a transformative global impact. With your generous support, we will make the Burning Man experience accessible year-round and across the globe; nurture the network of Regional Contacts who build our community; provide more grants, training, and support to creators of radically interactive art and events both on and off the playa; and fund civic programs that teach communities the power of collaboration.

Together we can turn our growing potential into programs and experiences that will help transform people’s lives throughout the world. But we need your support to make it happen.

How will they transform peoples’ lives? So far, by speaking for a few minutes about themselves in panel discussions at conferences, and helping get an art car into Zappo’s HQ lobby. It’s very meta: “we do good in the world by telling people that we do good in the world”.

Burning Man’s gone through a significant structural change in the last year, and that’s created some confusion as to who’s who and what’s what … so who are we now?

The short answer is that we are proudly Burning Man. Burning Man Project is simply the legal name of the umbrella organization for all of our programs and activities, including Black Rock City, LLC (which runs the annual event in Nevada) and the Black Rock Arts Foundation (now Burning Man Arts).

A bit confusing right? So for simplicity’s sake, we call the whole thing Burning Man, representing all that we are, all that we do, and all that we hope to create in the world. And when we say ‘we,’ we really mean YOU. In fact, we created the non-profit to support and proliferate the wide variety of Burner-initiated programs and projects we saw springing up spontaneously all over the world.

Oh great. We can call it Burning Man now. And donate more money to them while we’re at it, in the name of transforming peoples’ lives.

“Support and proliferate” is an interesting synonym in BMOrg- speak for “sue and claim credit for“.

What about the significant structural change that saw the main assets of the business being transferred to Decommodification, LLC? That doesn’t get a mention. Should we consider this private, for-profit, non-transparent company “proudly Burning Man” too? I mean, it’s the thing that actually “owns” Burning Man. When we give to Burning Man, are we helping its owners, or Burners?

Damn right, it’s confusing. Perhaps sending our money to them will somehow help make it less confusing. Or – here’s a thought – maybe if they provided the transparency they’ve been promising for years, instead of propaganda, spin, and misdirection, we could look at what’s really going on for ourselves and be less confused.

While ticket sales cover the cost of producing the event in Black Rock City, all donations support our year-round programs, projects and initiatives. And since Burning Man is, in its totality, now recognized as a non-profit, all donations are tax exempt.

If you read the fine print, they actually say donations are tax deductible to the amount recognized by law. The burden is on the giver to figure out what that means.

As for ticket sales covering the cost of producing the event in Black Rock City? As recently as last weekend, BMOrg CEO Marian Goodell said that their annual budget is $30 million.

Thanks to their recent revelations, we can recalculate ticket sales:

bm ticket calcs dec 2014

Revenues will be at least a couple of million dollars higher than this, because it is solely based on official ticket numbers. It does not include Exception Tickets that are sold at the gate and last-minute Bitcoin ticket sales. The only official number we have for how many tickets were re-cycled by Burners through STEP is a statement from BMOrg on July 17; STEP kept running for a few weeks after that, so there may have been more, leading to more handling fees. The vehicle passes were not a requirement from the Feds and are not transparent, so we have to take their word that they only sold 35,000. So far we haven’t heard a single instance of someone being turned away at the gate because they didn’t have a pass.

On top of these revenues, Burning Man also sells ice, energy drinks, coffee, merchandise, gas, propane, takes a cut on fine art sales, earns a percentage from movies and their soundtracks…and accepts donations.

They say that “ticket sales cover the cost of the event”. What does it cost to put on the event? We have covered this in some detail for 2013 and 2012, taking the numbers from their Afterburn reports.

BMOrg’s Afterburn chart breaks down their expense into “Event-Related” and “Year Round”. We don’t have information for 2014, and won’t for probably another half-year; but we know that despite the sale of at least 69,735 tickets, the population was 65,992 – down from 69,613 in 2013. It seems unlikely that it could have cost them more to support less people, so the costs are probably comparable between 2014 and 2013.

Total “Event-Related Expenditures” for 2013 was $11,232,928 

Total “Expense categories that include both event-related and Organizational” was $11,169,506

As you can see, $28.6 million of ticket sales is more than enough to cover the costs of putting on their annual crowd-sourced event. Most of the cost of Burning Man, including the art, music, art cars, costumes, and spectacle, is actually paid for by Burners, in addition to the money we give the bureaucrats in ticket sales.

The largest single event-related expense Burning Man has is their fees to the Federal Bureau of Land Management. They have to reimburse the agency’s costs, as well as pay a 3% cut of their revenues. For 2013, this amount was $3,450,000. The BLM also gets a 3% cut of revenues from the 45 licensed vendors who are conducting commercial transactions on the Playa. There is an unexplained “Other Usage fees” discrepancy of $1,072,952, which we have speculated is the license payment to Decommodification, LLC, and BMOrg have never bothered to clarify.

The largest “both event-related and Organizational” expense is payroll and contractors: $8,194,389.

The next largest is lawyers and accountants: $1,427,177.

What do all these people do all year, except picking the theme, trolling and doxing their critics, and inventing ever-increasing ways to stick their hands into our pockets?

Jackrabbit repeats their claim:

Together we can instigate cultural change in the world.

While the costs of operating the annual event in Black Rock City are covered by ticket sales, the work we do through our year-round programs is supported by community giving.

In 2013, Donations to Nevada schools and other Local Organizations was $199,329 (funded by ticket sales)

2013 Grants given out by BRAF were $101,556 (funded by the Artumnal party)

We’ve covered the merger of Black Rock Arts Foundation into Burning Man Arts in Art World Rocked by Burning Man’s Latest Move and 2013 Charity Results Released. Basically, these non-profits seem to accumulate more cash than they distribute out in grants.

Admittedly, we’re shooting in the dark a little here, because BMOrg’s transparency leaves a lot to be desired. We’re comparing 2014 ticket sales and unknown extra revenues, with what information we do have about 2013 expenses.

The latest plea for cash suggests Burners find out if their employer has a donation matching program. Bank details are provided for you to wire your funds directly to them. This statement also raised some eyebrows from Burners:

Bank: Wells Fargo
WellsTrade account number: [snip]
DTC number: [snip]
First Clearing/Wells Fargo Advisors

Yes, they don’t just take cash – you can give stock to them as well. This could be useful, for example if you invested $10,000 in a start-up, which got a subsequent funding round at an increased valuation, meaning your stake on paper is now worth $20,000; but perhaps the startup is seeking more funding and has a questionable future, so you want to give the stock to BMOrg. Writing off the investment at a loss probably has to be done at cost price ($10k), but donating the stock could perhaps be done at market value ($20k). As always, I’m not an accountant or lawyer, get your own advice – I’m just pointing out a hypothetical way that this new offering from BMOrg could potentially help Burners. I guess they figure that with so many tech people coming, they might as well get a share of all the startup action they can get their hands on (for free, of course).

Some Burners thought that this meant you could buy stock in “Burning Man”. This is not possible in “The Burning Man Project”, which is a 501(c)3 non-profit. It acquired 100% of Black Rock City, LLC, which is the operator of the annual Nevada event. Black Rock City, LLC has a license from Decommodification, LLC to use the Burning Man name and logo in its marketing and sales activities. Can Decommodification sell stock? Unknown, but unlikely – since most LLC’s don’t have stock. The Articles of Incorporation and Bylaws of Decommodification, LLC are secret – we don’t know if it is possible for them to add new members or sell the company (and thus all the assets of Burning Man). Apparently Danger Ranger created some sort of “deadman trigger” in this company which means that its assets are transferred to the Burning Man Project in 3 years unless the Directors vote otherwise; however, we have to take his word for that, since they are not sharing any of this documentation with Burners.

Interestingly, in doing the research for this story, I found out that one of the members of Black Rock City, LLC is now yet another private, secretive corporation:  “NV Event Production Co”. If anyone has any information about who is behind this entity, please share.

Finally, the “Special Give Us Your Money Edition” of the Jackedrabbit asks us to give them a cut of our Amazon purchases:

If you’re in the throes of getting your holiday shopping done, maybe consider making some good stuff happen with your purchasing power?

If you shop on Amazon, do it through AmazonSmile, and Amazon will donate .5% of your sale price to the Burning Man Project, supporting our year-round efforts to share Burning Man culture with the world. You get your stuff, and more people get to experience Burning Man. Win win.

How does this make “good stuff happen”, or “more people get to experience Burning Man”? Veteran Burners who want to go already struggle to get tickets if they’re not on some special list, and the recent mainstream marketing in The Simpsons and the Daily Mail is not going to help with that. It’s hard to see how giving money to this tax-exempt structure will.

I nominated Reallocate for my Amazon Smile. They’re a real charity, all Burners, doing really good things. In 2013, for every $1 given to Reallocate, about $10 of engineering time from its volunteers was applied to help needy charities with technical expertise.

If you want to do good, donate your money to causes that actually are doing good.

Ho, ho, ho. Merry Christmas and Happy Hanukkah, Burners – I hope you have a wonderful holiday season and a fantastic New Year.


[Update 12/14/14 8:18pm]

It’s not Gifting, if they have to ask for it. Larry Harvey said:

in the culture created by Burning Man, the value of a gift, when rightly given and received, is unconditional. Nothing of equivalent value can be expected in return; this interaction shouldn’t be commodified

Larry Harvey in The Atlantic:

Gifting, says founder Larry Harvey, emerged as the preferred system because “participants were unwilling to distance themselves from others through economic transactions.”

“Burning Man is like a big family picnic,” he told me. “Would you sell things to one another at a family picnic? No, you’d share things.”…

“People give because they identify with Burning Man, with our city, with our civic life,” he says. “The idea of giving something to the citizens of Black Rock City has enormous appeal to them because it enhances their sense of who they are, and magnifies their sense of being. That’s a spiritual reward.”

He says gifting—defined as the act of giving without the expectation of anything in return—alters the notion of value.  

“What counts is the connection, not the commodity,”

The spirit of Christmas is not asking for presents.

One of our readers pointed out that since SherpaGate and DangerGate, we’ve added a lot of new audience members who may have missed our earlier coverage of the Burning Man 2.0 non-profit.

Related Posts:

We’ve looked at the efficiency of their charities before, here:

The Art of Giving went through everything Burning Man Project (BMP) has done since they came up with it 4 years ago.

Art World Rocked By Burning Man’s Latest Move looked at the merger between BRAF and BMP, and the poor track record of both charities in giving grants out to the causes they support, versus accumulating cash in the bank and spending it on overheads.

2013 Charity Results looked at the performance of BRAF from the latest IRS filing. We’re still waiting on the 2013 IRS Form 990 for BMP.

Art Versus Money looked at the terribly one-sided Arts Grant contract, that seems to treat artists with contempt.

Charity Versus Tax-Free considers the idea that “non-profit” is not the same as “charitable”, and looks at some of the clauses in the organization’s new Bylaws that don’t seem consistent with Directors running lavish Commodification Camps.

Burning Man’s Gift Economy And Its Effect On Mainstream Society talks about the hypocrisy of BMOrg claiming credit for the charitable efforts of Burners, and pretending they gave financial support to charities that they actually didn’t – including a couple that were substantially funded by myself, and received $0 from BMOrg who promoted them as examples of “all the good Burning Man is doing in the world”.


image: Flava Claus/Flickr  (Creative Commons)

image: Flava Claus/Flickr (Creative Commons)

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 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.