In the last month, 12,000 of the world's independent record labels have joined forces to create a "virtual fifth major" meant to earn respect at the bargaining table in a world dominated by EMI, Warner, Universal, and Sony BMG. 80 percent of the world's music releases come not from the majors but from independent labels. Getting access to this music is a hassle for stores like iTunes and webcasters like Last.fm, since it takes an incredible amount of effort to do thousands of different (and small) deals. It's not a great situation for the indies, either, which individually don't possess the clout needed to get the best deals. To solve the problem, the indies decided last year to launch Merlin, a "virtual" major that functions as a one-stop rights clearinghouse for indie artists. Only in the last month has Merlin officially opened its doors to applicants, though, and the labels are pouring in. While most indie albums sell in small numbers, indie labels collectively account for 27.5 percent of total music sales worldwide; when banded together, they represent one of the largest labels on the planet. While negotiations with existing music services are largely in place already, Merlin has announced that it is working on deals with several soon-to-be-launched services, including the highly-anticipated music service from MySpace.