Normally, when you have an oversubscribed commodity, like playa tickets, markets are used to solve the problem. In particular, game theorists, who are the mathematicians who specialize in this branch of economics, know that the time-tested best solution for this is a special type of auction, known as a sealed bid second price auction, or its cousin the Dutch auction. But because Burning Man is a community with an anti-commercial ethic (even if that's not what is written in the 10 principles) the idea of an auction seems antithetical, because it suggests that BM is for the rich, and the poor need not apply. As such, tickets have been allocated by a "luck of the draw" online ticket sale, awarded to whoever loaded the ticket page at the right time, or in a lottery which drew even greater ire. All the systems leave many unsatisfied burners, and also create a lot of uncertainty in the planning of dedicated burners.
I have wondered if there is a middle ground. Here is what I would propose.
(TL;DR: Dutch Auction on 50,000 tickets -- overpayment goes to subsidize cheap tickets distributed by luck, and art grants. No scalping. No overloaded ticket servers. Predictability on whether you are going.)
1) Establish a budget for the event, what it is expected that ticket sales will raise. Say $28 million dollars from 70,000 tickets.
2) Hold a Dutch auction. for 50,000 of the tickets.
- In a Dutch auction, tickets open at a high price, say $1,000. Each day the price goes down $20. You can enter a bid at any time, though conventionally you enter a bid with the day's price.
- At the end of the day, the number of tickets sold is published. As the price drops, that number goes up.
- One day, the number of bids exceeds 50,000. The auction is over. Say it happens on the day the price is $500.
- All winners who get tickets will pay $500. Even if they bid on day one with $1,000, or day N-1 with $520. This is very important.
- On the final day, you do need to allocate winners and losers as there are not enough. You can use random selection, or first to bid, or just decide to sell more tickets in this sale if need be.
4) These $100 tickets can be sold via a lottery or a first-come-first-served or any other method that you think is fair. The $100 tickets are non-transferable. You can get only two, and they must be coded to one name. Even if the auction tickets are not print-at-home, the $100 tickets are print at home, because your ID will be checked when you enter. Tickets can be returned for refund to a STEP style program, but not sold.
Why is this the right system?
- Some people get a guaranteed way to get in for yes, filthy lucre. If your group bids together you either all get in or you all don't (except on the last day.)
- The rich bitches get in, but the extra they pay provides cheap tickets for those who can't afford it, and they fund art.
- Scalping is generally non-productive. This is one of the virtues of the Dutch Auction. Tickets sold for $500 because there just weren't any more people who were willing to bid more. Thus the number of people who will pay more than face value for tickets is few -- otherwise they could have just put in a bid at that number. There will be people who changed their minds, or did not understand how to bid their true value, or who decide at the last minute to go. But there won't be a lot of them to drive a big scalping market.
- Bidding is done slowly, and smart people do it in advance. So there are no overloads on ticket servers or timeouts or furtive reloads. Low capacity equipment can handle it.
- Because there won't be a lot of people to buy scalped tickets, few of the tickets sold in the auction will be to speculators, so the price will not be driven artificially high -- it's counterproductive to the scalper to do this.
I should note that a more likely outcome for the last day of the auction is that it ends a day early. Which is to say, once the bidding closes at $520 with 1,000 tickets left, the system will notice it has over 1,000 pre-bids of $500, and declare the first 1,000 of those the winners and end the auction. Bid early!
It's possible that the tickets might go for $600. In that case there is $30M ($2M over budget.) That means the 20,000 tickets are FREE, plus there is an extra $2M in art grants. Everybody wins. (Well, I would not do them for free, I would put a basic minimum on them and use it for more art grants because free would attract too many entrants.)
If the auction goes all the way down to $400, it stops there, as that's the price needed to fund the budget. This means the event did not sell out, and there are no subsidy tickets. (A higher floor might allow some subsidy tickets but it depends on how much the event sells out.)
A few more improvements:
- For will call, you upload a jpeg of your face, not your name. Your face is printed on the envelope with your playa name (or real name). Show up, they pull the envelope, look at your face and hand you the ticket -- a much more streamlined process. If the will-call room were naked, they could even let you find the envelope with your face on it and show it to exit. You're naked to assure you are not stealing any other envelope. Not cool with naked? Use the slower line.
- In spite of what BMOrg says, tons of high priced, high attendance events use print-at-home tickets securely and quickly. You need scanners and a local network, but It actually costs less than all that printing and mailing. No souvenir ticket, but also no will call, no lost tickets, no ticket fraud. It's the 21st century.
- I have not discussed vehicle tickets but a similar system can be used for these as well.