It’s amazing how much energy is left in the idea of digital editions of print publications. I’m not talking about shovelware Web sites, but about digital replicas of the print product, distributed electronically and read on the subscriber’s computer. The basic formula for these products is PDF+DRM.

This idea has been around forever. Longer, I think, than the consumer Web. It gets a lot of its energy from the perception among publishers that because it duplicates their print product with some digital advantages (e.g. searching) that it can be sold. Yet, aside from licensing fees, the incremental cost is about the same as a Web site — zero. Of course, there are real disadvantages as well. Magazines and, especially, newspapers are not formatted for reading on a computer.

The latest avatars of digital editions, Zinio and Newsstand, are generating a lot of interest.

PBS’s Newshour ran a story on digital editions of newspapers [Real Audio], with some remarkable statistics: about 160 US newspapers, and 225 newspapers worldwide are now offered in electronic editions, and the Washington Post’s digital edition has 800 subscribers. However, the number of actual editions being delivered today may be an order of magnitude smaller than this.

The Newshour described the audience as expatriates and others who couldn’t get home delivery. In other words: the Web audience.

But if it’s true, as Zinio claims, that 83 percent of digital magazine readers click on links in editorial content and 60 percent on links in ads — why not just give away the magazine and make money on the ads, just like you’re doing on the Web?

This maybe already happening. I know of at least one person who is getting a Zinio edition of a normally paid computer magazine for free.