But like the rest of Time Inc.’s publications, it’s stuck in subscription limbo

Image: Time Inc.

As someone who labored for nearly 30 years in the Time/Life Building — at Time mostly, followed by a shorter stint at Fortune — I have a vested interest in seeing the magazines that come out it survive and, if possible, prosper in the digital age.

So it’s with mixed feelings that I opened the inaugural edition of Fortune on the iPad, which landed in the App Store Friday.

On one hand, the first issue — which is free, by the way — looks great, is packed with extras and is much easier to navigate than the paper edition. It makes Fortune‘s content — even the long-form features — easily accessible to people who might never have opened the magazine. You can get it here.

On the other hand, the second issue — with Michael Copeland’s Google GOOG story on the cover — costs $4.99. And so will the third. And the fourth. And the fifth. And so on until Apple AAPL and Time Inc. TWX — and indeed the rest of the magazine industry — figure out how to properly charge for subscriptions.

This is a topic that’s already been pretty thoroughly chewed over this week. See, for example, here.

In a nutshell: The iPad edition ought to be free or heavily discounted for magazine subscribers. But it isn’t. Alternatively, you ought to be able to subscribe to the iPad-only edition and get a discount on each individual issue. But you can’t.

The iPad’s magazine subscription model has been broken since the device launched in April. It must not be a very high priority for Steve Jobs, or it would have been fixed by now.

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[Follow Philip Elmer-DeWitt on Twitter @philiped]