Warner Music Group's Rhino Entertainment division is introducing a new digital sales format called the Digital 45, in celebration of the 60-year anniversary of the 45-single.

Starting today (July 14) the company will release a series of digital "singles"-comprising of the original single, the B-side song, and original sleeve and other artwork-through iTunes and other digital retailers. iTunes for instance will feature a total of 60, compiled in a special Digital 45 section on its main storefront, such as "Take I Easy"/"Get You In The Mood" by The Eagles and "Kiss"/"Love or Money" by Prince, for either $1.49 or $1.99.

Rhino will continue to release another 25 such bundles every month to participating digital retailers. Those sold on iTunes will contain a bonus PDF file containing the original sleeve or label art when available.

Many of the songs included in the bundle are making their debut in the digital format, including Jackson Browne's "The Crowe On The Cradle," and James Taylor's "I Can Dream Of You."

The new effort comes several years after Rhino first began experimenting with alternative digital bundles though the Hi5 program. That initiative, which continues today, compiles a number of deeper-cut tracks with a hit single from a given artists in the Rhino catalog for a total of 5 tracks sold at a cheaper price than if all were purchased individually.

Rhino senior VP e-commerce and international catalog strategy David Dorn recently explained the company's digital bundling strategies to Billboard.

Other than celebrating the anniversary of the single, is there a broader goal behind the digital 45 promotion?
The timing was perfect to also introduce a product that is between the single track and an EP. We're always trying to find ways in the digital world to make sure we're satisfying every customer we can. Because you don't have stock issues and you don't have shelf space issues, we can easily do that. The format of the single itself has just come back not that long ago, so we just felt there was a good synchronous thing going on-reintroduce something that folks that were there originally will understand and younger people today will understand. And lets bring back the cool factor of the picture sleeve, which was in almost every case was different from the album cover.

Why not release them all at once?
We want to market these. If you put a whole lot of them in the store in one shot, then they all sit there. They'll have their promotion period, and some of them will get featured, but then they just sit in the store. To me it's more interesting to market them each month and create a program around them and have something new to talk about every month. The other thing is that there's a lot of research that goes into them. It's not as simple as an album we have in the store already. In many cases we have to find the artwork; we have to get the A- and B-side from the label. And sometimes with the non-album B-sides we have to get the audio source. I think a lot of people misunderstand the digital business. It's a lot more complicated than just sending them the digital file.

More so than other labels, Rhino must be particularly interested in producing digital bundles like this. Where are we do you think in the evolution of that as a merchandizing strategy?
You have a single track people are interested in and a greatest hits people are interested in. But there are going to be customers maybe interested in something in the middle. We look at this as the evolution of satisfying all the different consumers in the world. It's my goal to eventually address all of those different holes that exist out there where you could put a product. You have a single track. Now you have a 45 equivalent. You've got a single album, double album, boxset. We want to find ways to address all those different consumers.

A few years ago you tried a different bundle strategy called the Hi5. How did that effort go and what did you learn?
With the Hi5, it was early days. When we went out with that, the business itself was so nascent that you really couldn't look at whether that was successful or not. Now that it's evolved, we see our Hi5s come up in promotional picks from the retailers, they actually feature them. We've seen our sales increase on them, and we think the digital 45s are entering at a time where the business is far more mature. But the digital business overall is only five years old. When you think about any format, it generally takes longer than five years before you have true ubiquitous penetration across all consumers. So this is more experimentation on our part to see how the business is growing.

What did you learn from the Hi5 effort?
There are some artists that just sell a little bit better, and it's not the usual suspects. You'd think it would be the bigger artists. But what we found were that the Hi5s work well for artists that don't have 15 tracks for a greatest hits collection, but they have four or five. Other artists that have a really deep catalog of amazing material, like an Aretha Franklin, I think most people are willing to go to the 15-track investment because they know there are so many great songs it's worth the bigger investment. The digital world is about flexibility, so I love that with an artist like Aretha, we can put a single track out there, a digital 45, a Hi5, a single album, greatest hits, and a box set and there's a customer for all of those. You can't do that anymore in the physical world.

It seems ironic though that even though this is the case, so few labels put out digital material in formats other than the single and the album. Why is that?
I think technology plays a role. There are not that many digital retailers out there that are capable of doing tricky bells-and-whistles type stuff. That's more a matter of time than desire. I believe all the digital retailers would like to create the most compelling experience possible. Apple has a certain advantage in this case. I can only speak for Rhino and that this is something we spend a lot of time thinking about. How do we make the digital world as compelling or more compelling than what we've done in the physical world previously? I would only say wait and see some of the stuff coming down the line in the not too distant future. It's an evolution.

But as you mention, you're limited to offering what the retailers are capable of selling. What types of features would you like to see digital retailers adopt to make bundling non-traditional formats possible?
It would be great of all of our retail partners at some point would be able to include all of the elements we're currently delivering. If we could have parity on audio tracks, video, booklets or some sort of additional experience. That would be the start.

So as you go about all this, what's the driving goal? Is it plain marketing, or is it a music discovery effort, a merchandizing play?
The way Rhino looks at it is that while we're music historians in some respects we're also music fans and music consumers ourselves. When we think about the digital world and the endless shelf-space concept, it comes back to believing that whatever product we put out we truly believe there's an audience for it. We're not just trying to empty out our vaults or library of available assets and just throw them into a store. We actually look at this as a line of products no differently than we look at greatest hits as a line of products. In the digital world you can do a lot of things that you can't do physically. So we don't look at this as a quick in and out. That's the reason why we're not just dumping 500 of them into the marketplace in one shot. This is a line, and if this takes off the way we hope it will, we plan on putting a new set of 25-30 of these every month, and letting people know about it.