Updated: The New Yorker Leads Conde Nast’s iPad Subscription Push

Conde Nast takes an important step this week towards finding a rational tablet subscription plan, albeit one that includes a significant cut for Apple (NSDQ: AAPL). The New Yorker is now available for subscription on the iPad at $5.99 a month or $59.99 a year. At the same time, print subscribers gain full access, including the made-for-iPad issues that until now were only available at $5.99 a piece no matter your subscription status. The single-copy sales policy, dictated by Apple’s iTunes Store limits, left many of the magazine’s most loyal readers with iPads reliant on a browser version, while it kept others from being routine buyers.

The new price is lower — with 47 issues a year, it works out to $1.27 each for the annual subscription or roughly $1.50 an issue at the monthly rate. The annual rate is slightly lower than the current print blowcard promo of two years for $127 ($65). But Conde Nast has an even better offer — print and digital for $39.95 for one year or the bargain-basement rate of $69.95 for two years, easily the best deal of the lot and one that could goose print subscriptions. It should be low enough to bring in some new digital subscribers and a good enough deal to get some who might consider going digital only to keep print, too. The added access for print subs gives the New Yorker more of a sell for advertisers. (See below for more pricing info.)

The economics of the split with Apple means Conde Nast could be giving up 30 cents for every dollar, unless the publisher worked out a different deal as Hearst suggested it had last week. The new Apple policy gives publishers access to some customer information, as long as the subscriber agrees. It’s the next step in figuring out the app conundrum for magazine publishers.

First look: Last week, gaining access to Sports Illustrated (NYSE: TWX) on iPad as a print subscriber (a review subscription) was as simple as updating the app and logging in with my all-access pass info. Downloading and then installing the issue took more time than I’d like but it was still a fairly straightforward process.

Unfortunately, setting up The New Yorker as a print sub was not the most seamless experience. You need either your name and address as it is on the label (difficult since our gift subscription comes in both household names) or your account number. I finally had to go online to be sure I was using the right part of the label for the account; the in-app help didn’t have the answer and the form kept rejecting my efforts. Then you need either a current login or a new one. My login for newyorker.com, used to access the browser edition, didn’t work; it kept saying that my email address didn’t show up. I had to set up a new one. Once I was in, the screen looked like a genie had blinked my stack of back issues into digital form. Then I started to download the May 16 edition (125MG). After a couple of minutes the server kept disappearing and the download had to be resumed. After a few retries, I had enough to look at the issue while the download completed. The second download took about half the time with no glitches. (Peter Kafka, who reported first about the in-app subscription going live, ran into glitches, too.)

For a sense of the difference between reading experiences, I opened an article on Alexander McQueen. The digital edition showed one color photo and a url. The iPad app had a rich photo essay of the McQueen exhibit at the Met. One was sufficient; the other was an experience.

Update: In the official announcement that just hit, Conde Nast says the bundled price for print, iPad and the website is $6.99 a month or $69.99 a year. The box that last night was offering a special deal for two years now shows $69.99, which is a 75 percent discount over the print price, as the best annual offer with auto renewal. That allows Conde Nast to say it’s charging more for the added value. Conde Nast is, to use a little jargon, trying to change the value proposition for its subscriptions by including a new platform and pricing it a little higher as a bundle.

The company says existing print offers will still include all access. That makes sense since it’s to the publisher’s benefit to convert as many print subscribers as possible: they already “own” those subs and will have access to the info that Apple otherwise gets to gatekeep through iTunes. Another plus: no rev share with Apple on the bundles.

In-app subscriptions for Wired, Vanity Fair, Glamour, Golf Digest, Allure, Self and GQ will be $1.99 per month or $19.99 per year. Unlike The New Yorker, the bundle price will be the same through Conde Nast. Those editions are expected to start selling in-app and bundles subscriptions by the end of May.

Some people are obsessed with which publisher would be first to sell the in-app subscriptions and Conde wants a pat on the back for doing it. Personally, we’ve already watched what happens when publishers rush. At this point, I’d settle for getting it right. Conde Nast seems to have a reasonable approach that should help it guard against losing readers in a digital transition, maintain attention for advertisers across platforms and possibly even raise the discounted annual price some subscribers are paying.

Forget last year’s single-issue gold rush. This is the real beginning.