After liberating themselves from a traditional record deal, Radiohead took control of their distribution. They are now gleefully reinventing it. They launched their new album, IN RAINBOWS, online, selling it exclusively from their website for the first two months. Anyone anywhere in the world could download the album and pay whatever he or she wanted. It is estimated that Radiohead netted almost $3 million from digital downloads off their site. Radiohead received 100% of these revenues (rather than a 10-15% royalty) and had the opportunity to collect buyers' email addresses for future marketing and sales.

Following this first stage of distribution, Radiohead made IN RAINBOWS widely available on CD through traditional retailers. Radiohead had greater control of retail distribution than if they were tied to a major record company and most likely got a bigger piece of retail revenues. IN RAINBOWS shot to #1 in album sales during its first week in stores.

What lessons can emerging filmmakers learn from one of the world’s leading bands?

• Retain overall control of your distribution.
• Design a hybrid strategy combining traditional and self-distribution.
• Focus initially on your core audience.
• Sell exclusively from your website first.
• Then expand into traditional retail to supplement direct sales.

The music business leads the film industry in both the collapse of old distribution models and the launch of new ones. Check out two revealing pieces in the latest issue of WIRED. David Byrne (of Talking Heads fame) interviews Radiohead’s Thom Yorke and other music industry mavericks. In “The Fall and Rise of Music,” Byrne incisively analyzes the six primary music distribution models. They run the gamut from pure self-distribution to the equity deal, in which “the artist becomes a brand owned and operated by the label.” After examining each of these approaches, Byrne concludes that “with all the ways to reach an audience, there have never been more opportunities for artists.”

Filmmakers also have an unprecedented number of distribution opportunities and they're just getting started.