Demand has met supply. Last year was the first year Burning Man sold out and although it was by no means immediate (it sold out roughly six months after tickets went on sale), it dramatically changed its fate…
Even for consumptive and conformist institutions, people at the foundation pride themselves for having a hand in its development and regale in the good times before the popularity of that thing. For Burning Man, which touts radical self-expression as one of its primary tenants, that sentiment is significantly more intense.
Right now is particularly bad timing for this tipping point to occur. After two and a half decades, many of the originators and die-hards are getting ready to move on. So there appears to be growing polarity between those at the foundation who are ready to call it a day for their once sacred event and those who are prepared to see it through its current metamorphosis. Just like any successful man-made social institution, Burning Man has been in a constant state of growth and change, but when it sold it’s last ticket at the end of July 2011, it crossed an event horizon that is antithetical to its nature… For once, there was a limit to the abundance. There was scarcity.
In an attempt to create an egalitarian system for the 2012 Burning Man, the organizers, Black Rock City LLC, created a tiered-price, lottery system that made them infamous for the disastrous fiasco that ensued upon implementation. Because of the scare mongering that ensues from a luck-based system, many people created multiple accounts to increase their odds of winning tickets. As a result, only 30% of those who applied got tickets, splitting up well-established camps. Like any society, people gather to perform tasks that they can not accomplish themselves and that product is greater than their combined individual input. Accordingly, to split up camps is to diminish their effectiveness at an exponential level.
The convoluted ticketing system was contested for months by hundreds if not thousands of participants before it was implemented and was not recalled after it immediately and obviously failed, but Black Rock City LLC forge ahead. In true Burning Man nature, many of those individuals who contribute so much on the Playa, offered their services off of it as well. Many people proposed different systems, a substantial amount of people who won tickets offered to let go of theirs and start over with a new system, and some people offered their own ticketing services for free.
Now that there is scarcity, there are opportunists; this was the first time that there was a market for scalpers. Once the results from the lottery came out, that the majority of applicants did not get a ticket, many people’s initial reaction (including my own) was to look to ticket resellers and ebay to see if Burning Man was being exploited. This was the markup for a $400 ticket.