Colbie Caillat releases half an album with “Gypsy Heart Side A”

As artists continue to try to find ways in the digital era to get their fans to buy more than just a single, Colbie Caillat and her record label are trying a new approach altogether. As she continues to work on her fourth album, she’s released what she’s calling “Gypsy Heart Side A.” Depending on how one looks at it, the five song collection is either the first half of her unfinished album, or an attempt at getting shoppers to spend four dollars instead of just one. They’ve taken it a step further, in fact, by giving away lead single “Try” as a feee download. Early chart results suggest that the experiment is working.

Gypsy Heart Side A, despite being only five songs long, is counted as an “album” by iTunes Store standards. Upon its release on Tuesday, it shot to number one on the iTunes pop album charts, and has since settled into the number four spot over the weekend. By sacrificing any revenue that would have been made $1.29 at a time from the single, Caillat is instead making $3.96 at a time from fans who have been lured in by the free song and have ended up buying the entire half-album.

The question now is what Colbie Caillat and her label decide to do once she’s finished recording. For instance the R&B tinged song Hold On, a single she released last fall in a major departure from her typically bubbly pop sound, is nowhere to be found here. Will she end up releasing Hold On, Try, and the other four “Side A” songs along with five more songs in order to complete the Gypsy Heart album? Or are these songs mere teasers, an EP of non-hits to pass the time, with an entire album’s worth of new recordings coming in the fall?

Perhaps even Caillat and Republic Records don’t know the answer yet. They’re surely watching this week’s “Side A” experiment very closely to see what they can learn about digital purchasing patterns under the unusual circumstances of a free song driving sales of what’s being billed as half an album. Other artists and labels may be watching closely as well.