That’s the question Radiohead seems to be asking as the band prepares to release its upcoming album, In Rainbows, October 10th via digital downloads.

The cost? That depends on what you’re willing to pay.

Radiohead, which did six albums for EMI before it severed its relationship with the label in 2003, recently announced through that the album would be made available as a download on October 10th, and fans could pre-order the download. But on the order form was an empty box with the notation: “The Price? Whatever you choose.”

Customers who pre-order will be sent an activation code for downloading the album when it’s released October 10th.

In addition to the album, Radiohead is also prepping a box set scheduled for a December release that includes the new CD plus two vinyl records, artwork and lyrics. Unlike the name-your-own-price downloads, the box set will cost about $80.

As fans flooded for Radiohead’s version of digital distribution, many observers couldn’t help but wonder if this was the latest nail in the major-label coffin.

“This could be seen as a turning point in the way artists and fans interface when it comes to the release of new material,” said Alan Cross, the Toronto host of the syndicated radio show “The Ongoing History Of New Music,” according to The Canadian Press.

“Here is a superstar band that is out to prove that record labels are not necessary. And if this works for Radiohead, could you imagine what will happen to other superstar bands who have the same means or greater to do a similar thing when their contracts are up?”

But while Radiohead strikes a blow for the people, published reports hint the band hasn’t totally blown off any future major-label involvement. Those reports indicate the band is negotiating with many labels, including EMI, and might sign with a record company within the next few months.

But until that moment arrives, no record label stands between the band and its fans. Just the rush of incoming digital orders from people wanting their Radiohead at their price.

Or as Radiohead guitarist Johnny Greenwood wrote in response to the cyber traffic jam caused by the new album,”So, if you please bear with us, it should get cleared out soon. I sound like a bouncer. Get behind the rope. No denim. Thanks for your patience with the site + interest in the record.”

Radiohead Feedback

Interest in Radiohead’s unorthodox marketing was not limited to music-oriented publications and MP3 blogs. For several major media outlets, Radiohead was THE story.

“What Price A Download?” was the headline in The Wall Street Journal, which claimed that most fans were “overpaying” if they selected a $10 price for the band’s new In Rainbows album. It said the band, which prides itself on its “anti-corporate and anti-materialistic ethos,” could be “more productive to adopt a no-surprises policy and fix a simple, fair charge for its record.”

Investment news site The Motley Fool also played up the name-your-price angle, predicting that this will not be the first time music consumers will pay what they may.

“But the band Radiohead is making a significant move into what sounds suspiciously like the future of music,” wrote Alyce Lomax, saying the major labels “may find this development more than a little unnerving.”

The Los Angeles Times, which featured the Radiohead story on its October 2nd front page, found not one, but two managers of major bands willing to give their takes on Radiohead fans picking the price.

“This is all anybody is talking about in the music industry today,” R.E.M. manager Bertis Downs told the Times. “This is the sort of model that people have been talking about doing, but this is the first time an act of this stature has stepped up and done it. … They were a band that could go off the grid, and they did it.”

“My head is spinning, honestly,” said Pearl Jam manager Kelly Curtis. “It’s very cool and very inspiring, really.”

But the great Radiohead adventure was not limited to the Los Angeles Times front page, for the newspaper also made it a featured editorial, which didn’t bode well for those working in the recording biz.

After detailing the Great Radiohead Experiment, the Times editorial ends with “Cheers to Radiohead for taking a leap from a dying business model and trusting their fans to catch them.”