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Burning Man ceases selling tickets at its gate

It also appears that, for the first time, there could be a limit on the number of tickets available.

I got my annual Burning Man ticket invitation post card in the mail Monday, always an interesting experience given all the emotions that the card conjures, particularly this time.

At first, I gave the card a cursory reading. But a few hours later, I picked it back and examined it a little more closely. And there, tucked away about a third of the way down the page, are 13 words that could be the most significant in modern Burning Man history: "New for 2008: No tickets will be sold at our event site gate."

It's bolded, but still, it doesn't exactly jump out at you on the page. And yet, these are very big words.

Throughout the history of the event, it has always been possible to buy tickets at the gate. Many thousands of people have done so. A few years ago, the decision was made to close off sales at midnight on Friday morning of the week of the event, but still, you could buy them up until that point.

What this new change means is that no one will be able to just show up at the gate and buy a ticket. That means everyone will have to plan ahead. Everyone.

This is likely to be a well-received, though controversial move. Many veteran burners feel that the people who show up late without tickets are people who don't "get" Burning Man and who are increasingly flooding the event with a non-participatory energy that is in stark contrast to its traditional "no spectators" ethos.

And so, to force every single attendee to get a ticket ahead of time is likely to be seen as the single most tangible step that could be taken to weed out the so-called "yahoos" whom many blame for a watering down of Burning Man's creative energy.

Others will point to the change as unnecessary, elitist, and unfair.

Either way, it's a seriously major shift in the policy of the event, and it is sure to be debated far and wide as to the wisdom of the decision, as well as whether it's possible to properly educate the community so that people don't make the long, long drive to Nevada's Black Rock Desert, stopping along the way to buy hundreds of dollars' worth of supplies, only to be turned away at the gate.

I don't yet know what precipitated the change, but one likely scenario is that Burning Man fears it may be in danger of growing too much.

Under the terms of its permit with the U.S. Bureau of Land Management (click for PDF), Burning Man's growth cannot exceed 6 percent of its previous high attendance.

And given large growth over the last couple years, it is very easy to imagine that the 2008 event could have approached or exceeded the 6 percent growth mark.

Just this weekend, I was talking with someone and explaining that the only way Burning Man's organizers could deal with too much growth under its permit was to do a massive publicity effort to alert potential ticket buyers of any limits on sales at the gate.

But this was purely theoretical. I didn't actually imagine that it would come to pass.

Now, these 13 words on the invite postcard.

There's more, too.

The invite also says, "10,000 tickets (available) at $210 each....10,000 tickets at $225 each....10,000 tickets at $250 each (and) $295 tickets available while supplies last."

Again, this is a first. There have never been limits on the number of tickets available at the highest cost. And while the invite is not definitive that there could be a cut-off of available tickets at $295, it's clear that Burning Man is reserving the right to do so.

And why would they reserve that right? Because if they approach the limit allowed under the permit, they'd have to stop selling.

This is all very interesting, especially to longtime burners.

My advice to you if you want to go this year? Get your ticket early, and spare yourself the headache of worrying about it later.