Few Tickets to Paradise

By Mitch

To the apparent surprise of the Burning Man organization — and almost no one else —  bidding for tickets in the main phase of the 2012 sales program was far stronger than had been projected, irking Burners throughout cyberspace.

“There are a lot more tickets being requested than there are tickets available,’’ Bmorg’s Will Chase wrote in a Jan. 27 Jack Rabbit Speaks e-missive and on the Burning Blog website, “an inordinately large number, in fact, and far more than we projected even after last year’s sold-out event.’’

The reason? “It seems that people a) likely got their friends, family and campmates to order tickets as well, and/or b) requested more tickets than they actually need.’’

Bmorg spin control: “So the unfortunate net result is that there will be a lot of people who aren’t awarded tickets from the Main Sale … BUT DO NOT FEAR!! Because this means that there will be a large number of tickets in circulation within the existing community, tickets that simply need to be redistributed to those who need them. Based on our analysis, we hold a strong belief that things will settle out over the course of time, once that redistribution takes place, such that most everybody who wants a ticket will find their way to one.’’

The last bit might be correct, if you ignore the possibility that scalpers went in hot and heavy for the lowest tier or two. Still, while most people who want to go may well get a ticket in the end, the question remains at what price and at what cost to the event.

The weighted average price for tickets this year is about $326. As in the past, they are being sold to the public in tiers, this year with four levels: $240, $320, $390, and $420. The last level was for a limited sale in December of no more than 3,000 tickets, meant to be given as holiday gifts or to secure places for people who had to go. Judging from the lack of complaints by Burners who did not win tickets in the first round, supply at that level roughly equaled demand. The Burning Man website says 3,000 tickets were sold.

So far so good, but then the system broke down. The fatal flaw is that having tiers inside a lottery system, where most of the tickets are being sold, is nonsensical. Bidders can specify the highest price they are willing to pay, but not the lowest, and there is no benefit for paying more. The Bmorg is offering 10,000 tickets at $240, 15,000 at $320, and $15,000 at $390. At least 10,000 additional tickets — possibly more if the federal Bureau of Land Management raises the daily attendance cap from 50,000 — will be sold on a first-come, first-served basis starting March 28.  An additional 4,000 $160 tickets will be available to those who can prove they need them.

The stated reason for the tiers is to provide access to tickets for Burners who can’t afford to pay full freight. Given that the event sold out last year, there is very little risk in bidding for the $240 and $320 tickets, they can easily be sold for more than that if most people are paying $390 or $420. So bidders bid away, potentially including scalpers. It seems reasonable that theme camps would bid at full price for those that can afford it and then put in extra bids at the lower tiers for the inevitably needed freebies distributed to willing but impoverished helpers.

There is also scant downside for, say, a couple to bid $390 to give themselves the best chance of winning in the main sale, while also offering $240 or $320 in hopes of getting a better deal. The Bmorg is planning a secondary market — with the unlovely bureaucratic moniker of Secure Ticket Exchange Program, or STEP — for resales at face price, so if they should win both, they could keep the cheaper ones and resell the more expensive ducats.

Christian, who runs a website called The Ticket Economist, said Burning Man seems to have adopted the system used by the Sundance Film Festival but with the addition of the tiers. “The pricing tiers are odd, what is that solving? I would just pick one price if the tickets are all the same to give people who want to resell less assurance that there is a profit opportunity.’’

As for the resale program, which is meant to keep the tickets in the Burner community at face value and away from profiteering forums like eBay and Craig’s List, Christian is not a fan. “Regardless of the Utopian ideals you encourage among the community, resale-for-profit will be an element of ticket exchange. If STEP captures 25 percent of all resold tickets, I would be surprised.’’

Indeed, Burning Man would do better to partner with eBay than to try to avoid it. “If they approach eBay with a partner opportunity to capture those who would have otherwise gone the auction route, you could get some more support from eBay in controlling the rogues. They are actually quite helpful when you partner with them.’’

On Sunday night, eBay’s StubHub subsidiary had 16 sellers listing various amounts of tickets at $698.50 to $1,650 each. It is not clear if these are real tickets purchased in the holiday sale at $420 or pie-in-the-sky tickets that the sellers hope to buy. The price does include a 10 percent service fee that pays for a guarantee that you will get valid tickets on time for the event, with shipments promised for late August.

Another site, stubdepot.com, listed nine sellers offering prices from $800 to $2,107.

Burning Man and its vendor In Ticketing claim they can “scrub’’ the buyers list to remove known scammers. Nice in theory, but scalpers who stay in business probably have ways around that. An anti-scalping Facebook page has appeared.

Christian said he would design a system that randomly assigned potential buyers to specific time windows of two to three hours, allowing them to bid for tickets on a first-come, first-served basis within those windows at a single price. In tandem, Burning Man should run auctions that begin at higher prices at the same time as the regular ticket windows are open. Price-sensitive buyers could use the fixed-price windows and those with cash to Burn would opt for the auctions.

In cyberspace, nobody can hear you scream, but they can read all about it. Burner sentiment is squarely against the current system in comments on the Burning Blog and ePlaya. Many want the lottery stopped and the STEP system is looked upon with a certain amount of scorn. A recurring proposal is to link tickets to specific attendees, perhaps with photos.

Here are some fun comments that were up on Sunday, Jan. 29, starting with reponses on the Burning Blog item referenced above:

Greg Says: January 27th, 2012 at 3:47 pm How did you not know that if you had a lottery people would sign up multiple times? That was my first thought when this was announced. You should really consider giving priority to people who have attended in the past (i.e. email addresses that have bought tickets before), and people who have made significant contributions in the past via theme camps and art projects.

Marc Says:  January 27th, 2012 at 3:57 pm Really BM? First, you tell us not to worry when you announce the ticket policy change to a lottery. There will be plenty of tickets. Don’t see it as a lottery. Now you say many won’t get tickets in the initial round, but DO NOT FEAR those that purchased too many will simply redistribute them. What a load of crap. Further, what about those that can’t afford the play the risky game you have now created. The texture of the event is so dependent on a strong demographic of folks that can barely afford the tickets at the lowest of the tier prices under the previous ticket sales policy. Take some responsibility for crying out loud. In my view, all is not well and I find little comfort in BM’s “analysis” and “strong belief” all will settle out just hunky dory. I love this event, but I do not love BM’s continued effort to increased greed and aim for the higher bottom line

richmackin Says: January 27th, 2012 at 4:08 pm I used to work at a company that would give insultingly low raises, and then put a positive spin on it by saying “but you can always work overtime”.

In both cases, the message is “We screwed you, but you can compensate!”

Does anyone on the BORG end of this actually think anyone is happy about this?

Horrible idea that many people said was horrible and turned out to be horrible.

Timichango Says: January 27th, 2012 at 4:17 pm I agree 100% with the negative sentiment about how crappily this whole ticket sale shift has been conceived and implemented.

You went to an idiotic lottery rigamarole system as a dubious solution to a dubious problem, and not only has it utterly failed to make life easier or fairer for anyone (IMHO lining up early, being on the ball, and planning in advance was way more fair than the randomized gamble frenzy that this policy has caused), but all you’ve effectively done is transfer the onus of properly managing ticket distribution from the festival org to the attendees themselves.

What a stupid gaffe you’ve caused. Don’t do this again next year—sell tickets the normal way, and outsource the process to an experienced fulfillment supplier if you can’t handle the tech and process yourselves, rather than litmus-testing asinine experiments like this on your attendees.

The experience ON THE PLAYA should be freed from the constraints of logic and orthagonal thinking, but the bloody ticket sales process should not.

Emily rose Says:  January 27th, 2012 at 4:36 pm This is ridiculous. The fact That it is even necessary to write an article about how people who actually want to go to burningman can track down tickets through other sources than the llc itself is insane. The old process was simple and made sense. Those who wanted a ticket bought one until they were sold out. Just like any other event. You have over complicated a perfect system and put a strain on your most loyal burners. Not a good move.

zoe brock Says: January 27th, 2012 at 5:08 pm I sincerely hope you learn from this and never put us through this kind of stress and anxiety again. What a colossal cock-up. Your intentions, as always, were amazing and pure, but just as an FYI this has been an awful process for the people who just want to go Home.

People who have attended before and contributed should get priority. There could be a virgin process… an essay! hahaha.

I trust you. I have faith I’ll get there. But it would be nice to not feel like Mom and Dad were going to have a full table at Thanksgiving this year because they invited too many of the neighbors and I’m forced to camp outside and peek through the window.

Stu Says: January 27th, 2012 at 5:46 pm As pointed out before, the ultimate loser to this mess is the event itself. Why? Because the large scale art will suffer. Who is gonna pour their blood, sweat, tears, and time into an art project, when the uncertainty of a ticket extends months after they *needed* to start on the project? It’s clear that not everyone who wants to, can go, but the repercussions of the lottery system are extending quite far indeed, and they are not good.

Let’s face it, it’s a real clusterf*ck.

Chill Says:  January 27th, 2012 at 6:11 pm You know, thinking about it, all the changes that Burning Man org did for the ticketing process benefited whom? Burning Man.org! This plan has nothing to do with making it easier for the people who attend the event, and everything about making it easier for BMORG.

For months, people have proposed a simple solution: You buy one ticket, it has your name on it. When you get to the gate you show your ticket and an ID. If you can’t go, return it to BMORG for a refund-minus handling fee, and the ticket goes back into the pool to be distributed again.

But that would involve WORK for BMORG!

Now everyone has a bad taste in their mouths just as we should be getting more and more excited in the man burning in 200 days. This is terrible.

John Durham Says:  January 27th, 2012 at 6:25 pm While the old ticket sale system had it’s faults, the New and Improved system of uncertainty has been gamed from the start. Under the old method if you really – really wanted to have a ticket you ensured that you were early in the process. Now if you really – really – really want a ticket and you are not one of the chosen few we can rely on the Good Will of those who have gamed the new system to treat us fairly? I may have been born at night, but I was not born last night.

Kran Says: January 27th, 2012 at 10:41 pm Proposed for 2013: Sell tickets first-come-first-serve in separate tier blocks (e.g. 5 tiers, 5 blocks of 10,000, over 5 months). Start with the most EXPENSIVE TIER FIRST, with the cheapest tier last.

*Scalpers will tend to stay out until the later, cheaper tiers.

*Gotta go? Expect to buy at the higher prices early on.

*Can’t afford the early tiers, you take a chance on cheaper tiers later.

*No one buys more tickets than they need – zero hoarders.

*Want to discourage scalpers, make just the cheapest tier(s) all or some of: will call, by name, with ID, non-transferable.

Sounds counter-intuitive but it really is not.

>Old system: Low cost tiers early to promote early sales. No longer required.

>New system: High cost tiers early to spread sales out.

The 2012 system just turned a bunch of great burners into a bunch of desperate gambling hoarders. Friends don’t do that to friends, but they just did, because they love Burning Man so much they got scared, and scared people do bad things. Please, let’s have a no fear 2013.

Gregg Says: January 27th, 2012 at 10:51 pm Really, you guys messed up. The old system was working just fine. The enthusiastic burners put in their request early and got tickets. The newbies or on the fence crowd waited a bit until they were gone. This is the organic way of how the tickets should be distributed and what you did was introduce an element of fear into the process and people freaked out. Admit your mistake and go back to the old way for next year. It will be a lot less stressful for you and for us.

faith smith Says:  January 28th, 2012 at 1:44 am As a 15 yr attendee of Burning Man I will not be attending this year. Our camp has built several major art projects on the playa (funded by Burning Man) and I participate in a theme camp placed on the Esplanade that is over 8 yrs old. Screw you Burning Man. Way to leave out the starving artist and people who plan for this all year long. We are all super glad that people who can afford to buy 10 tickets with no price cap can do so. Guess what? They always could. Now, you are totally screwing the rest of the world who lives paycheck to paycheck. My camp, of over 100 people, who by the way, 20% of us work for Burning Man, is PISSED!!!! A lot of us will not be returning. How can you expect a theme camp to exist if some of us don’t get tickets in your lottery. What the hell were you guys thinking? I don’t even care to try to get in to your elitist bs fake ass community. Good luck. BTW your DPW appreciation party next year…gonna be different.

Jay Zimmerman Says:  January 28th, 2012 at 4:18 am This whole newfangled “ticket distribution” scheme is a very thinly disguised surefire way to avoid being forced to take responsibility for your ticket selling mistakes of the past, especially last year’s queue crash and subsequent mountain of complaints very rightly brought upon you. Congratulations: you found a way to sell tickets so that NOBODY can even KNOW if you made a mistake with their order, much less hold Burningman accountable for it! You were worried about your own asses, not thinking through, as usual, about the consequences of your actions. Surprised… REALLY? And now you’ve got a WORSE problem on your hands: The scalpers have won… and the demographic you have attracted will profane the event. I put my order into the lottery, but fully expect NOT to get tickets. And, I won’t feel so bad about missing Burningman this year.

Sachi Ivy Says: January 28th, 2012 at 12:48 pm My biggest issue with the lottery system is that it’s very difficult for families (like ours) that come from a lower-economic background. We live paycheck-to-paycheck and we save all year for our one big vacation: The Burn.

Forcing us to buy tickets in January, right after the holiday season when pretty much everyone is broke, was bad timing anyway. It’s the lowest-income month, too, as both the businesses we work for cut hours and tips because no one’s spending money.

Giving us a window of almost a month: from registration start to actual charge on the cards – was way too much. Giving us a vague window (23rd-1st) was also too much. I get paid every two weeks. I have to keep careful track of when my paycheck arrives and when my bills go out. But this month I’ve had a huge chunk of cash sitting in my account that I don’t have real control over.

How much will it cost? When? Is there an extra $100 I can buy groceries with, or will the tax and service charges overdraw my account? I don’t know. Hopefully not.

Thankfully our bank’s spend limit is more than the highest price we registered for, but what about the folks who have to call their bank every other day to insure that the charge won’t get denied? We’re Burners, but we also have lives: jobs and families that deserve more attention than this month-long (or more) ticket fiasco is allowing. Yes, it takes money and effort to go to Burning Man. Yes, it’s a privilege that I’m happy to work my ass off for all year.

But did you have to make me feel like I’m poor AND oppressed?

We only registered for two tickets for the two of us, one time, up to second tier. Maybe we’ll be in the lucky percentage, but with other folks buying up all they could (with help from “family and friends”) I know our odds are greatly reduced. Not to mention the rest of the folks in our camp that we depend on to share the costs of getting there…

So now I have 2 options: I can continue to leave that money sitting in the bank when we’re still struggling through a too-tight, too-close-to-the-line January, while I fight for tickets through STEP or whatever; OR I can buy the highest-priced tickets during the last sale – which I’ll probably have to take a day off of work to participate in so I can sit close to my computer and insure that I’ll get tickets before they sell out.

Simply put, this system is really and truly NOT FAIR, and is another example of the class warfare that is rampant in our country.

I think the fix was pretty simple. People bum-rushed the first-dale sale last year because that’s how you get the cheapest tickets. If you averaged out the ticket prices and made it the same amount for everybody, then you wouldn’t have to deal with the influx of numbers on one day. It still took months – during which time there were plenty of warnings – for the tickets to sell out.

Yes, that would mean that some people would have to pay more because NO ONE would get the lowest tier tickets. So what? I think that’s fair. It evens the playing field, the tickets will sell over a period of time and the opportunity for everyone to get one will be much greater. Having the cheapest tickets go on sale – and sell out – in January STILL favors people that have more money to spend, while those of us who are struggling to recover from the holidays have to wait and buy the more expensive ones once we can afford it.

I say this again, as if we went big on the holidays. We didn’t. Our son got 1 toy from us, and we didn’t get anything for each other. I took a week off to visit my family – my husband stayed home to work. And it still wiped us out – especially because all our available extra cash had to sit there and wait for the ticket sales. Lame.

And all of this concern over the scalpers is silly. Yes, obviously the ticketing people need to deny any suspicious purchases, yadda yadda. No matter what the sale system is, they won’t go away entirely, but the only people who will go to them are the ones who didn’t get tickets in the months they were on sale legally, and are stupid enough to pay a scalper’s prices. That’s not your problem, it’s theirs. The only way to completely stymie the scalpers is for the entire community to stop buying from them. But as you may have noticed, people really, really want to go to Burning Man – at any price.

This ridiculous system that, what?, 60,000+ people participated in only proves that.

Kran Says: January 29th, 2012 at 1:27 pm A SECOND CHANCE LOTTERY!!!!
Wow! Wouldn’t that be nice!

So here is the idea to redistribute ‘hoarded’ tickets before STEP and with BMorg’s best effort to eliminate the scalpers …

BMorg announces to all lottery winners they have one week to decline/cancel any over-purchased tickets for a full refund so BMorg can return those tickets back to the pool where BMorg can do its best to get them to burners instead of scalpers. (I think one week should be enough for most winners to check how their campmates and burner friends did in the lottery, and hopefully, enough to reconsider the temptations of scalping.)

* BMorg announces to all lottery losers they have a week or two to renew their existing order for a Second Chance Lottery.

I just hate the notion that the fear of scarcity has driven good burners to, at best hoard, at worst scalp. Here is a chance to correct the error with “no harm, no foul”, just a simple re-think and return/refund. I also believe BMorg is better capable of eliminating scalpers than STEP, where scalpers will look to slip in amongst us to buy face value tickets from good burners. And if the tempted can receive some redemption, our whole world just got a little bit better.

Jakob, Denmark Says: January 29th, 2012 at 3:51 pm So, what youre saying is:

To make a fair solution to the ticket problem, you created the ideal black market conditions, so that the rich people – who can actually pay which ever insane price the tickets will go for….

-instead of letting the most loyal and dedicated, who wants to buy a long time in advance do so, and the weekend-burners be the ones to take the risk of waiting to buy ’till the end.

I sincerely hope that those in charge of ticket sales will learn from this. There is no such thing as fair in lottery, only an invitation to cheat, and take advantage of fellow burners.

It has been a sad experience – Let’s do better next year!

Dr G Says: January 29th, 2012 at 7:00 pm 11 year veteran, theme camp and art car owner, but will we get enough tickets for our group? Who knows.

The old system worked fine. The event did not sell out until late July last year! Even if it sold out in late June this year, that would have been fine for those that got their tickets early. An increased number of tickets also would have pushed the ‘sold out’ date back, probably into July.

But no, stress and unrest are rampant. This is a debacle. Promotes hoarding. I am depressed and pissed at the same time.

Meanwhile, over on ePlaya, in this thread:

by SpacemanSpliff » Fri Jan 27, 2012 2:48 pm I’m sorry, but any 13 year old who’s ever tried to get tickets to see Radiohead could have told you this was going to happen.[/RANT]

by alt12 » Sat Jan 28, 2012 7:58 pm  I think its fairly obvious that there are a shit-ton of scalpers descending on the event due to the sellout last year. I think its a very naive fantasy to assume that the increase in orders is due purely to well-meaning but scared burners who had their aunties buy tickets for them. Professional scalpers make their living ripping off events like this. Unfortunately the lottery does nothing to stop this and likely exacerbated the problem quite frankly. So we’re being told to basically just accept that we are likely going to have to buy these tickets on ebay and *hopefully* we’ll be able to discern a genuine ticket from a well printed forgery (of which there are many every year).

by CapnJoe » Sun Jan 29, 2012 10:45 am How in the world did a giant undertaking devolve into a mess like this? It isn’t like this is the first year that they have had experience doing it! It’s almost like a bunch of beginners trying to cheap out the process instead of spending a little more money on it. Put the name on the ticket!!!! If you are too secretive or uneasy to show a ID, tough! You have to have a license to drive there and to prove you are not underage to drink after you get there. That is if you are lucky enough to look under age.

by CaptainVic » Sun Jan 29, 2012 12:51 pm Given that the number of tickets is limited by the BLM agreement, at some point the demand for tickets is going to exceed supply. That happened last year (early summer ?), and it looks like it happened this year in January. When this happens, there are not too many ways it can go. Either ticket cost increases, either through primary price increases or via secondary market scalpers, or there is a lottery for tickets priced below their auction value with some kind of individual idenity system on each ticket to prevent sale on the secondary market (ticket holder photo or other personal identifiers). It is true that printing purchaser identity information on each ticket increases cost a bit, and effectively stops ticket gifting, but it does kill scalping and therefore makes it possible to keep down ticket prices.

Another thread:

by Jenifersteppat » Fri Jan 27, 2012 7:30 pm At first I was skeptical that most Burners would do the right thing and not game the system (human nature) and wanted to get in on the presale. My husband talked me out of it (boy is he sorry after seeing the latest JackRabbit – can you say I told you so)? I tried to hope Burners would not fuck other Burners over by hoarding, that most people did not have the ability to tie up that much money, that they would not want the hassle of ending up with extras they would have to unload, that a large amount of people would not even have HEARD about the lottery yet, that a lot of Burners would not have their shit together yet…you get the picture. I’m sad my initial instincts that human nature would win out were right. I am still positive and hopeful I will get tickets, but have to say I have ZERO confidence that people who got too many tickets will nicely sell them at face value to fellow Burners (human nature again) and think MOST will try to make a buck. For the first time I am really starting to think I better start making a back up plan trip…which makes me sad, but I am still staying positive and hoping for the best!

Finally, in another thread:

by pinemom » Mon Jan 23, 2012  Just a quick note to let you know that this new lottery is really going to effect the actual amount of regular attendee’s coming home.

This has given a lot of people to excuse to not go based on fear of not getting one.(BECAUSE 75% of us cant afford to bid on a ticket till we actually get our income tax back)!!(still 15-60 days away from TODAY!)

This has also hampered the building of new theme camps! Why would anyone wanna throw down 4-6K on a theme camp not knowing if 15 of the 30 of your new members cant get a ticket.

You really should put a registration number on that postcard you send each of us every yr, and ask us if were going? We check the box and send it back. Then you would have full on numbers in advance.

Then everyone that has always gone, and will go every yr, would know their registration number was filed.

I dont know how to solve your tickets issues really, just trying to figure out a better way for the artists that pour their pocket book into a camp, know for sure that what they spent would be enjoyed by the playa people. And news flash, the spending on a theme camp is 365, not just in May when you think your going to go….

Im glad that we closed shop on the Booby bar. I would be scared as F**** to spend a red dime on it, with these odd’s of not KNOWING if you can even afford the tier your going to be thrown into! Or of course having to wait till end of March to see if your taxes are back in enough time to grab the open ticket sales day against the spam bots buying them up faster the human fingers can hit the BUY button.

Perhaps you should have had the theme camp/village people put in their questionnaires first, so at least the members and financial backers of said camps could throw their wads in and know for sure it wasnt throwing cash into the wind.

Im just worried that with the insure status of tickets, is going to effect alot of art out there this yr.! what a drag. stupid spam bots screwing up even a damn art festival.

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