Label -- home to M. Ward, Arcade Fire -- stars selling digital albums from site, and does so without breaking its own bank.

Indie labels still looking to enter the digital revolution and offer their own downloads for sale may want to look at Merge Records. Rather than revamp its entire site into a digital storefront, Merge found a relatively cheap and painless way to sell digital albums-by e-mail.

Since the start of this year, the Chapel Hill, N.C.-based label has been e-mailing digital albums to those who order vinyl from the site. Now the label is selling the individual files for $8.

Customers receive a randomly generated code, which is good for generating one e-mail of an album. There's an honor system, Merge technology guru Spott Philpott says, in case someone happens to lose the file.

Philpott also notes that it will take about 15-20 minutes to receive the album, as long as it's purchased during business hours. As of yet, Merge's site isn't automated, and the company's mail-order department will have to send out the code. For this reason, Merge has kept its download offerings on the down low.

"Since it is kind of clunky, we haven't done a lot to promote it," Philpott says.

That will change as the site should be automated in the coming months. Look for Merge to start selling out-of-print Superchunk 7-inches, and songs the label hasn't found a home for, such as a recent M. Ward cover of Gordon Lightfoot's "Early Morning Rain" featuring Neko Case and My Morning Jacket's Jim James.

There is one snag with Merge's downloads-via-e-mail system-the site won't offer much in the way of single track sales.

"It's an accounting headache," Philpott says, "and we'd have to generate a separate code for each track."

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