Radiohead continue to spurn iTunes, but the band is ready to grasp the digital opportunity, offering fans the chance to download their forthcoming album at the best possible of prices - pay what you like.

Prince is doing it. The Charlatans are doing it. Bruce Springsteen and Paul McCartney have done it, and Nine Inch Nails frontman Trent Reznor has been at it for a while.

What is it?

It's a new paradigm for digital music. Prince pushed his latest album through the Daily Mail, giving away millions of copies of the release. (And plans to release a special DVD through The Guardian later this week). The result? 21 sell-out dates at the O2 Arena.

The Charlatans this morning announced plans to make their new album available for free download through UK independent music radio channel, XFM.

Bruce Springsteen and Paul McCartney have also taken the chance, offering single free music tracks from their latest releases through online channels.

Radiohead's reason for spurning iTunes is clear: they are an album band, they don't want to make their music available in isolation.

As the creative originators, they demand the freedom and power to release their albums as complete collections. That's why they won't sell their music through iTunes, as Apple insists all album tracks are downloadable individually.

Critics have noted that this is inconsistently applied: Apple does allow artists to make some tracks or videos available only to those downloading an album, presumably as a sop to spur album sales.

But that's not enough for Radiohead. As far as that band are concerned, if they can't find online services that will let them offer their music the way they want, they'll do it themself. So they have.

Surf across to (the name of the new Radiohead album) and you get the chance to buy both physical and digital releases of the album.

The physical release is a collector's set. It costs £40, and includes a hardback book, the digital versions, and a second CD of otherwise unavailable material. It also includes both CD and vinyl releases of the album. It looks great, with nice artwork, and reflects one tier of future model music distribution - it's a high value package with bonus material.

Many analysts expect this to be part of the future of music retail.

Radiohead fans can also indulge themselves in purchasing a digital version of the album. You can pre-order it now and will be sent a download code on 10 October.

The price? "It's up to you," the band explains to fans trying to buy the pre-order. You can pay as little or as much as you want.

Great Mac aficianado, musician and Radio 6 DJ, Tom Robinson, has also made much of his music available for free download online.


The greedy labels. Robinson writes: "iTunes downloads cost 79p per track. Writer/publisher get 6p, Performer 6-8p, Visa/Mastercard 7p, Apple 12p, and Record Company almost 50p. Sod that. Help yourself to my songs and share them with your friends."

Like many creatives in all fields, Robinson rejects the notion that the artist's role is to sponsor the labels and distributors of an artist's creative work. If an artist is going to earn spurious amounts from sales, why not side-step the status-quo and get the music into the hands of the audience.

This builds the audience, builds the loyalty, and reinforces the connection between artist and fan. It should make for better attendance at live events, and creates opportunities for other music-based business ventures in future.

Robinson's thoughts were reflected this morning by maverick UK music industry pioneer, Alan McGee, said: "Why would you volunteer to join the army for ten years unless you had no choice? Record companies are kind of like the army - very regulated," he observed.

McGee, who manages The Charlatans, added that his band: "Will get paid by more people coming to gigs, buying merchandise, publishing and synch fees. I believe it’s the future business model."

Free downloads, ad-supported downloads and value-added music retail packages are emerging as key alternative business propositions for music makers, with legitimate services such as iTunes remaining a critical part of the mix.

But for me, today it's exciting news that Radiohead are finally prepared to say, "OK Computer".