Anyone trying to figure out a business model for digital content should keep an eye on the results of a forthcoming experiment by Conde Nast. The leading publishing house plans to reproduce its December edition of the glossy men’s magazine GQ, page-for-page, advert-for-advert, as an iPhone app, which will be sold through the App Store for three dollars, compared with five dollars for the print edition.

Crucially, the Audit Bureau for Circulations is reported to have said that Conde Nast will be able to count sales of the app towards the total circulation figure its sales team pitches to advertisers.

The app also has interactive features that won’t, of course, be present in the print edition. For example, users will, in some cases, be able to flip a photo of a product over to see who designed it and who sells it. Apparently, they will then be able to click on a button to actually purchase the product online.

This all sounds well and good for Conde Nast, but will its readers be prepared to sacrifice the enjoyment of flicking through eye-catching photographs and arty graphics printed on real paper to peer instead at mini-versions of the same images on the iPhone’s 3.5 inch display? Unlike newspapers, the best glossy magazines can sit on people’s coffee tables for weeks because they are so visually attractive. That has to be why luxury titles, such as Conde Nast Traveller, who trade on the quality of their photography, appear to be thriving at a time when other printed matter is struggling.

Still, magazine apps will probably drive some incremental sales for publishers, particularly as manufacturers roll out larger devices with mobile connectivity, such as the smartbooks touted by Qualcomm.

In any case, it doesn’t sound like Conde Nast is betting the farm on smartphone apps. Sarah Chubb, Conde Nast Digital’s president, told “We’re currently exploring four other ways of digitally distributing our content and this is one good example of our thinking.”

Let’s see what else they have up their sleeve.