Ah, my Burning Man 2012 ticket arrived yesterday. So shiny. So coveted. Sigh…
As alluring as it is I won’t be attending the burn this year and my ticket has already been purchased by another member of our camp. They’re a number of reasons I decided not to go and one was the ticket debacle. I know, I know. it’s a topic that’s been beaten to death but I’ll add another rant to the pile.
2011 was the very first year the festival sold out of tickets. The festival is capped at about 50,000 people because the single two-lane road going in and out can’t accommodate more with the entrance and exodus already taking a full day each. So you have a scarce and valuable resource (tickets) that need to be distributed in a capitalist society with a highly efficient and functional economy. What in the world could be done?
Yes, a lottery. The worst of all possible solutions. Instead of just doing the reasonable thing and raising ticket prices they held a lottery. This was an awful idea on many counts:
It prevented planning: Burning Man is a BIG event that takes a lot of planning to attend especially if you want to contribute in any meaningful way to the event. Suddenly a lot of folks had no idea if they’d be able to attend till way to close to the event.
It fractured camps: Every camp I know had a significant number of their members not get tickets. For a camp to work there are certain core members that must attend and if they’re randomly excluded it’s a disaster.
It probably INCREASED demand for tickets: I have no hard statistics but I’d be willing to wager that a lot of folks put in for more tickets than they needed to increase their odds of winning the lottery. They figured if they one more than one they could just sell the other tickets off on eBay.
So why did they do this? I don’t know for sure but I’ve heard they didn’t want Burning Man to become a rich man’s festival and thought the lottery would serve as an economic equalizer. Of course, they could’ve just set aside a specific number of tickets for lower income burners (the nickname for attendees) though I admit it would have been problematic to screen applicants for them (student ids? tax returns?).
The lottery was rolled out in phases but was such a clear failure after the first round that the powers that be altered or canceled the remaining ones and totally rejiggered the ticket distribution. Camps deemed important were seeded tickets to make sure they’d show up, and a central ticket redistribution system was set up that didn’t allow reselling of new tickets bought thru it. Tickets like mine became much more valuable because they could be resold in the real world economy.
The net effect of all of this was to leave a bad taste in a lot of burners’ mouths – mine included. So I made other plans. It’ll be very interesting to see what they come up with for next year (Thunderdome?). I still say the best plan is the just raise the prices and have a set-aside for low income burners. If it’s known tickets will be $1000 a head then camps can buy accordingly and adjust prices within the camp according to members means and how much they contribute. Members who do more for a camp should maybe pay less? Sounds like a good idea to me.