Burning Man tickets went on sale at noon Wednesday, although the man won't burn for another 239 days, and folks snatched up some 10,000 of them before sundown.
The ticket sales and announcement of the theme for this year's event -- "Psyche: the Conscious, the Subconscious and the Unconscious" -- are coming two months earlier than last year, in part to beef up the budget but also to give people more time to prepare.
The Burning Man organization incurred major expenses recently, spending more than $800,000 to bring its 200-acre ranch in Nevada, and its staging and storage area for the event, up to code.
"We are broke," said Burning Man founder Larry Harvey. "We dumped so much money into the property."
Tickets for a week of "radical self-expression" range from $145 to $250. The cheapest tickets -- there are 2,000 available -- are reserved for low- income participants. The remaining tickets start at $175. Buyers are asked to buy the most expensive tickets they can afford to make cheaper tickets available to those in need.
As soon as the tickets went on sale, the Burning Man Web site was jammed. Buyers vying for the cheap tickets overwhelmed the site, and service was spotty throughout the afternoon.
The prices may seem high for a dusty week in the desert, but the event costs millions to produce and is a yearlong effort.
"People who complain usually haven't been," Harvey said. "And the people who have been often only imagine the costs that affect them directly, the toilets and building the man."
It costs about $212 per person to make Burning Man happen, he said, and tickets sold for less are subsidized by the higher-price tickets.
Expenses for the 2003 event, the most recent figures available, give a glimpse as to how much Burning Man costs, the infrastructure behind it and the number of people working on it.
Costs for 2003 included more than $603,000 paid to the Bureau of Land Management to cover environmental protection at the National Conservation Area, which includes the Black Rock Desert, where the event is held.
An additional $528,000 went to renting equipment, tools, cars, trucks and offices. The Burning Man organization paid $1.2 million for outside services, including independent contractors, a Department of Public Works crew, technology consultants, ranger management and administrative support -- as well as $1 million in payroll for 25 full-time employees.
Toilets cost $319,000. An additional $288,000 went toward art grants. There was $13,000 for costumes, $189,000 for fire safety, $223,000 for insurance, $76,000 for printing and $158,000 for medical supplies. Renting the properties in San Francisco and Nevada cost $136,000, tax and licenses came to $335,000, and watering to keep the dust down was $80,000.
With all the 2003 expenses, there was only a $44,000 surplus -- an increase over the $9,000 in 2002. The extra money was used for improvements, technology and staff bonuses, Harvey said.
There are 10,000 tickets available for $175, 5,000 for $200 and 5,000 for $225. An unlimited number sell for $250. The pricier tickets don't come with any frills or privileges over the cheap ones.
"It is exciting that we got our act together this year and could get sales going at the first of the year," said spokeswoman Marian Goodell. "It helps us manage our time, money and resources, and fund things as soon as possible."