Other established bands are following Radiohead's lead (which I wrote about here) and releasing new albums outside of the studio distribution system, allowing consumers to name their own price. The Charlatans are releasing their latest album, You Cross My Path, as a free download on their website. Just like Radiohead, they will follow the release with a boxed CD sold in stores (how retro!) which -- if the Radiohead experiment is any guide -- will sell briskly.
So is this really an alternative distribution mechanism or just a new, very effective pre-release marketing tool to hype up CD sales?
While Internet downloads + CD sales may work for established bands with large, young fan-clubs, lesser-known artists will still need marketing and distribution support to get exposure. This means there will be a role for studios in some guise or another. But time is running out fast. Can EMI and the others figure this one out before they implode?