As Billboard previously reported, Blake Shelton’s new release, "Hillbilly Bone," a six-song mini-album, hits stores today. USA Today is taking note of the uptick in country mini-albums (or EPs, or collections that generally have fewer than ten songs). Luke Bryan, the newspaper points out, released his second “Spring Break” digital EP today. And "country's Josh Thompson and American Idol's Jason Castro have released digital EPs in anticipation of full albums."

Shelton’s six-song CD, which Warner Nashville will put in physical retailers, represents a far greater leap of faith and a bigger shift in strategy than a digital-only release. Not all albums will be shortened to six songs, but expect to see more mini-albums on store shelves as labels and retailers try to find ways to offer music at lower prices.

This mini-album experiment could help fix two problems. First, it could help keep record labels on the store shelves on retailers wary of falling CD sales. Second, cheaper albums will probably do more to lure buyers who would have otherwise bought a single track. The current gap between track and album is about $7.70 – a $9.99 digital album price minus $1.29 track price. At iTunes, Shelton’s Hillybilly Bone costs $5.99 while each track costs $1.29. That’s a difference of $4.70. If the price gap is reduced to the $4 to $5 range, labels may be better able to convert track buyers to album buyers.

A look at the numbers show the mini-album idea has potential. If Shelton released two $5.99 mini-albums instead of one $9.99 album, Warner Nashville will have to sell 167 combined units of the two mini-albums for every 100 units of full album sales to break even. (Wholesale costs for digital product, not physical, were used in those quick calculations.) That’s very doable, especially if the lower price point causes the track-to-album conversion rate to improve. On the expense side, however, labels will experience greater expense in putting out two releases instead of one. But even considering the higher expenses, and even if the 167/100 ratio is not reached, mini-albums could help labels achieve the incalculable benefit of keeping the Walmarts of the world interested in their music.