Black Rock City 2012 Population Update

This guy does NOT work for us.

When the peak population for Black Rock City 2012 was announced at noon on Friday of the event, the preliminary tally was 52,385, which seemed a bit low. We suspected there were more people in Black Rock City at its peak (which was actually Friday at 6am this year, by the way). So after the event, we went back and conducted a full and comprehensive audit …

After doing some pretty significant accounting and recounting, we determined that the actual peak population at the 2012 event was in fact 56,149. (Now, that’s not everybody who went to Burning Man, it’s just the peak population … a lot of people came late and/or left early this year, having planned ahead to avoid high-traffic ingress and egress times — did you notice the shorter wait times?)

Due to some new processes that were put in place in 2012, the count released on playa was low.  For fifteen years we’ve had a great record of recording accurate population tallies, and we place a high premium on capturing and reporting this important data.  We keep count because a) it’s really important for us to know how many people are out there (for a variety of reasons, not the least of which is production planning), and b) it’s required by our BLM permit requirement, as you’ve probably heard by now. Our population cap for 2012 was 60,900, and happily our peak population didn’t come close to bumping up against that total.

So there you are … we’re happy to be able to report the final population count for 2012 … and we’re glad we’ve worked out some kinks in our system to ensure proper reporting in the future.


About the author: Megan Miller

Megan Miller

Megan is an accomplished communications professional with experience in the private, public and nonprofit sectors. She’s a skilled leader, writer, editor, public speaker, and strategic adviser. Megan is passionate about the art of sharing information in creative and impactful ways, and believes in the power of ideas and authentic self-expression to change the world for the better. Before joining the year-round Burning Man staff in 2012, Megan spent ten years working for environmental protection, HIV/AIDS prevention, political campaigns, and the United States Senate. Born and raised in Juneau, Alaska, Megan earned a Bachelor’s degree in English & Art History from McGill University in Montreal, Quebec and is a 2007 graduate of the Coro Fellowship in Public Affairs. She is also a certified yoga instructor who loves shaking it loose on the dance floor.

19 Comments on “Black Rock City 2012 Population Update

  • Todd Gardiner says:

    And is there an official total count? Awkward to specify that the number you are relating is not this other number, but then fail to list what that number is.

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  • louisacrystal says:

    Tickets sales? Please I want 2 under my tree!

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  • Tonka says:

    I had heard estimates on BMIR that burn night was down to something like 48K, is that accurate? They said it looked like exodus on Friday, was it all the virgins leaving because of the higher than expected dustiness?

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  • jay hotch says:

    Felt more like 56,150

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  • CoreyOkeevs says:

    A peak of 56,149 . That’s a really good turn out. I will be trying my hardest to by part of it this up coming year.

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  • Ken Pace says:

    I would love to see the results of the census that was taken this year. How do I get a copy of it?

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  • 19652150 says:

    estimated 19,652,150 $ that’s why his eyes are bugging out 56,149. x350 and they say it not about the money yea right lol !

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  • Liam Be'em says:

    I don’t get it: Fine, the incoming flow is measured precisely. But the outflow wasn’t measured at all (if my exit experience is indicative). So, logically, how can we purport to have hour by hour population numbers?

    (And, are we sure we captured accurate numbers for parachutists? We could be off on our numbers by dozens, dozens I tell you!)

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  • Liz says:

    Please, parachuting is so 2007. Burnier Burners now tunnel in from Jungo Road.

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  • Wiley says:

    Uh. gardiner, look into stats. They explained that it is a peak population. Are you really asking them to keep track of every person leaving and minus that from the total of ticket entrances (requiring additional staffing to count the those exiting)? I think it’s nice they posted some info about it, but I don’t feel the need to pressure an exact specification per person of total population. I guess I don’t see what knowing the precise number does for you or I.

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  • Wiley says:


    19652150 Says:
    December 12th, 2012 at 1:03 am
    estimated 19,652,150 $ that’s why his eyes are bugging out 56,149. x350 and they say it not about the money yea right lol !

    It’s important to realize this fallacy; A) not everyone is paying $350, so the ‘estimate’ is already quite off (people are volunteering and applying for low-income tickets). B) bm provides all kinds of expensive scholarships (I don’t know this total, but after seeing 3 welding friends get a sponsor of 2k, I understood that bm is generous. C) the permits to host such a large event (the size of a city) is costly–the land (and it’s cleaning once we are gone) is not a cost-free space to inhabit. D) And give thanks; you obviously went because you felt your life could be bettered in some way–the experience you had could not have happened w/out them.

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  • Biff says:

    For all of you who bitch about the money the org takes in, look at this chart from 2011. Do you all believe that it costs nothing to put this on? Give these people the credit they deserve for the hard work they put in so you can come to the best party of your entire life.

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  • Mr. Wizard says:

    Given the huge number of burners who were denied tickets through the lottery, I hope all the BMORG hang their heads in shame at this. Shame on you for getting it so wrong that people who wanted to attend and contribute were unable to, even though there were plenty of tickets and plenty of space. And please don’t take the “how were we to know?” stance. You had plenty of opportunities to fix things and didn’t. Lame. Just really, really lame.

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  • Canadada says:

    If the high count is 56,149, and the permit was for 60,000, this is very disappointing!
    Since there obviously WAS a possibility for those of us who were not able to purchase tickets either directly thru the BM lottery, or the BM STEP system to attend. Hard as we tried, we could not get tickets in time to prepare for the journey.

    Something is not adding up…

    Why the ~4,000 body difference between the tallys – Hanging chads?

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  • LDD says:

    I still (previous request for this info remains unanswered) would like to know what the “peak” population consists of? Is it only ticketed bodies that are counted or are the numerous volunteers, infrastructure personnel, subcontractors (of which there are many) and miscellaneous and sundry law enforcement officers included in the “body” count? How is it possible to determine that the “peak” population occurs at a precise time? Is the precise time the moment the highest number of tickets torn is reached? If not, just how many tickets were torn (stubs collected)?
    If answers to any of these questions are published elsewhere on the site or in the permitting procedures, I would appreciate being so informed!

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  • Bleurose (Jon Rosen) says:

    A few things to keep in mind.

    1. The peak count is the count that matters to BLM. Burning Man takes out a license for a specific number of “souls on board” for each day. BLM doesn’t care a hoot (well too much anyway) if there are 60,000 people who show up on Monday and stay until the following Monday, or if 60,000 different people show up every single day (well that MIGHT be a problem because of entry and exodus issues, but BLM itself is mostly concerned about the number of people physically impacting “their” desert on any given day). So while my 60,000 different people every day is a little facetious, the principal is correct, i.e., there COULD HAVE BEEN MORE than 60,000 different physical people at Burning Man during 2012 as long as no more than 60,000 showed up at the peak. Its like a club with a max occupancy limit, but as people come and go you can easily in a night have MORE than that 300 Max number of people come in.

    2. What this means is that BM can SELL more than 60,000 tickets if they can somehow make sure that no more than 60,000 actually show up on a given day. The problem is, they can’t do that. They don’t have any proper way to stop people and prevent them from coming in because the “occupancy level” has topped out. So they have to guess and rely on their entrance AND exit figures to keep things in check. And by the way, they DO count people who leave, or at least approximate it. They certainly count vehicles that leave during the week. That gives them at least a reasonable estimate.

    3. I expect that they have always done this and have always played it pretty close to the line. I think 2011 was actually the first year when things went a little haywire because the actual tickets sold out. That had never happened before. When you include all ticket sales PLUS volunteers who get comp’ed, they have to play a pretty fine “game” of figuring out how to keep things in check. This year one interesting thing that happened is a LOT of people left early. They obviously have only alluded to it because they haven’t released entrance/exit counts on a daily basis (which I think they should, including volunteers and staff) but clearly based on lines and waits and the number of people at the burn, etc., the crowds had already thinned by Friday and Saturday. I was there from Saturday morning to the Tuesday after Labor Day and you could feel it.

    4. Someone correctly pointed out that you can’t simply take the peak attendance and multiply it by $350. Many tickets were sold below $350 (although a few were sold above that as well, the holiday tickets last year were $420 I think) and there are many volunteer tickets given away so the peak attendance is NOT a direct multiplicand to determine gross revenue. That being said, it is clear that the gross revenue is a LOT closer to $15,000,000 (average ticket price of $300 for 50,000 tickets) then it is to $10,000,000 (which would be an average ticket price of $200 for 50,000 tickets).

    5. The BLM fee is NOWHERE NEAR THAT MUCH. The BLM fees for 2010 (the last year for which there is a Financial Chart posted) were $1,250,000 for about 55,000 (again, we don’t know the exact number of bodies admitted but that was the peak census) which is about $25 per person. The likelihood that the BLM has jacked up the fees by a substantial amount is pretty low (governments don’t work that way typically). But even if the fees had doubled, that is still less than $3,000,000 for 55,000 people or less than 20% of a total estimated $15,000,000 in income. That leaves LOT of money to distribute.

    One thing that has been blithely overlooked is that between 2009 and 2010, the payroll for Burning Man (according to their published charts) went from roughly $3,000,000 a year (where it had been for several years before) to $7,300,000 a year (more than double) in one swoop. That was a HUGE increase (whereas almost no other expenses went up by more than a modesst amount. I am sure there were some big salaries given out. I do not begrudge people who run things like this salaries (even big ones) but it has always surprised me that for an organization that on the one hand touts itself as inclusive, they aren’t so “open” as to publish their full financial statements (for instance, while they have always published these summary “financial charts” there is never any income information in them and there is never a detailed accounting). That’s their right, of course, it is a private company, but it flies in the face of openness and inclusion which is supposed to be the hallmark of the event.

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  • Andreas says:

    Actual and Peak are the same in Germany. We are much more precise.

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  • Keys says:

    Since the world is supposed to end today, I thought it extremely important to comment on Bleurose’s comments re: financial’s. Although the numbers are estimates, they seem reasonable. Regardless, I for one don’t think it would be a good idea for the BM to publish their salary numbers. What seems low to one person might seem high to another, and feelings would be hurt no matter what the numbers are. Sure, it would be nice to trust that everything about BMORG is completely transparent, but I don’t see how published salaries would be helpful to the community (aside from possibly providing peace of mind for some participants in higher income brackets). I’m with you on the hypocrisy of this. The “perfect” world is not perfect, but the man will still burn in 253 days!

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  • trebor says:

    is any of the raw population data made public. i do data visualization work and would love to have good, high granularity data to play with.

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