Amid staff layoffs and magazine closings, Conde Nast launched a new potential source of revenue today with the launch of a GQ iPhone app.

Conde Nast will start selling digital versions of its issues on the iPhone for the discounted price of $2.99 (versus $4.99 on the newstand). The first question that comes to mind is this: Who will start doing this next?

If Apple approves the app, Conde will eventually start selling other titles through the iTunes store. Condé says the GQ digital issue will replicate the print version (including ads). But it will also include related
videos and links to sites for products
featured in the issue.

It’s unclear if the viewing experience will be an effective replication of magazine reading (many online efforts to replicate print content online have been clunky and annoying to read), but wth the advances that digital readers have made over the past year, it shouldn’t be expecting too much to assume Conde can figure out the details. Or improve upon them as it goes.

But as far as revenue streams go, this could be very useful for the publisher. Readers who have let their magazine subscriptions lapse due to paper fatigue aren’t likely to read an entire magazine online, but they could easily do so on a smartphone. (Or e-reader, or other device. Getting content onto the iPhone will pay the way for a more device agnostic marketplace later.)

Meanwhile, Conde can count iPhone subscriptions as part of its total subscriber base. And it can add more ad inventory for brands. Already, the company says that its print advertisers can add digital
links to the iPhone version for a premium. And Grey
Goose and Gillette are signed on as “premium sponsors” of the digital GQ issue.

Apple still controls the billing situation on the iPhone (and will ilkely take a 30% cut of all sales), but this could be a great way to get people — especially commuters — back in the magazine habit. For magazines that already stream all their content online, it might be a tough sell to start charging for that content in mobile. But if they add enough digital features, and make the viewing experience slick enough, it shouldn’t be too hard to win brand loyalists to the new platform. Getting new readers may be a different story, but an iPhone app can’t be expected to fix all publishing woes, can it?