Apple’s Newsstand making the case for in-app subscriptions

Apple (s aapl) launched iOS 5 last week, which introduced Newsstand, a new central location for organizing and selling digital periodical publications on iOS devices. Early reports, and the tale told by App Store charts, suggest Newsstand could be Apple’s smartest move in terms of demonstrating the value of its in-app subscription service.

First, there’s the sudden increased presence of digital magazine and newspaper apps on the iTunes charts. In the iPad App Store, there are six Newsstand publications in the top 25 free apps, and 18 in the top 100. Five magazine titles appear in the top 25 highest-grossing iPad apps, and 14 in the top 100, in case you were thinking that those free downloads weren’t converting into paid subscriptions. On the iPhone store, where selection is extremely limited compared to the iPad so far, there are still six Newsstand titles in the top 100 free apps.

Newsstand appears to be having a sizeable impact on one key issue influencing the success of digital publications: discoverability. It achieved this in two ways: First, the Newsstand store is now its own distinct entity, accessible through the Newsstand icon on every iOS 5 device’s home screen. Second, the icons themselves are distinct, interesting and dynamic. Each magazine or newspaper is represented by a depiction of its current cover, which makes them visually interesting and can also spark a reader’s curiosity, the same way covers can when lined up on a magazine rack at a local convenience store.

Another sign that Newsstand is doing well: Publishers using it are saying so. Future Publishing, a U.K.-based publisher with more than 50 titles in Newsstand at launch last week, says it has already accumulated more than 2 million downloads (via TheNextWeb). All those downloads have translated to a hefty payday for the company, too, with more sales during the past four days than it normally sees in an entire month.

It all adds up to a strong argument in favor of Apple’s in-app subscription system, which many publishers initially weren’t too pleased with, since Apple takes a 30 percent cut of any sales and customer information is passed along to publishers on an opt-in basis only at the time of purchase. But if these early numbers hold up, Apple could be on track to repeat its digital music storefront success with a whole other category of electronic media.

My only request? Let’s get some individual issue comic subscriptions in there, too.