The alternative is to buy from the dealers. However to do so, you need to be assured of the integrity of the dealers. Not all are honest. Conversely not all are dishonest. The difficulty is the level of recourse you have when you are given defective goods. Returning a defective good back to China is a nightmare, something that internet buyers are mostly ignorant of (except for those who had gone through that nightmare).
Having a middleman is introducing an additional layer of potential fraud - fakes and imitation. Again it depends on the level of trust. Hearing someone shouting at the top of his voice on the dishonesty of others does not make him an honest man. That comes after a period of personal interaction wherein the level of integrity will reveal itself. Frankly by that time, it may well be too late.
The firing process is quite complicated and often results in defective pots. These are often sold to the dealers at a steep discount. The problem is that some of these dealers pass it on to unsuspecting buyers as normal goods and earn a handsome profit. It may even be the case that the potters themselves pass a defective pot to the dealers as a normal pot.
For these reasons, if it is possible, perhaps buying direct from the potters may be a better alternative.
I understand that many of the potters are quite shrewd businessmen too. I was also told to be wary of potters whose wife, sons and daughters are potters themselves. However in yixing, that is quite common.
As William said, the inside line to them is perhaps the key. That will increase the probability that they give a better quality product to you.
Another alternative is to wait for exhibitions. However such exhibitions are often held by junior potters who produces certificates of high attainments. The really good ones have their ready-made clientele and lots of back orders. The trick then is to view the outputs of these junior potters with an expert eye to their future attainments. That is beyond my ability at this moment.
But William and Charles, I understand your reservations - at least, i think i do - to a certain extent. Thanks for your cautious words. I too, do not wish to meet with dishonesty in any form. I am willing to pay for good products, to be fair to the potter. Again as you said, in the midst of strangers, an inside line is invaluable.