Pop rockers Marillion will make their 15th album free to download and all they ask from their fans is an email address. Even that's not compulsory. It may sound like a desperate ploy for new mates but there is business method to this seeming madness.

The 40-something troubadours have form marketing their music via the internet. Four years ago, they raised the money to record a new single by sending out a mass email asking for their fans to pay for the band's studio time, while in 2001 fans paid £15 for pre-orders of the album Anoraknophobia.

Back in 1997, Marillion secured £32,000 towards a tour in the US using the same methods, which even now would buy a lot of generously-proportioned sandwiches for the dressing room.

This time, the band is hoping that it will recoup its costs by even more indirect means. It will use the email addresses of those that download the album to send out promotional material for gigs and merchandise.

Price of Fish

Keyboard player Mark Kelly told the BBC: "Everybody's aware of the effect of peer-to-peer file-sharing on CD sales and the music industry in general.

"Up until recently we've felt fairly immune to that because the fans have been really supportive of the band and, I suppose, because of the age demographic, they do tend to prefer CDs to downloads."

Kelly says that the band comes from 'a long tradition of selling it', which is understandable, but with the loyal support of its greying backers, the sovereigns, shillings and shekels seem just as likely to trickle gently in.

Happiness is the Road will be released on 20 October. Traditionalists will be happy to know that it will also be available on CD.