He was only 23, however, when he took over the business in 1953 after the death of his father, William B. Ziff Sr., who founded the company with Bernard G. Davis in 1927. The son went on to expand the company with timely and ultimately very lucrative titles such as PC Magazine, MacWeek and Electronic Gaming Monthly. But the path he took was not a straight line.
Rebuilding the business
He sold most of the company's consumer and business titles, including Skiing and Modern Bride, in 1984 -- then took a four-year hiatus to battle cancer. After his return as chairman in 1988, however, he helped rebuild the business around the computer magazines he had held back from the sale.
Ten years later, he sold 95% of the renewed company, by then called Ziff Davis Publishing, to Forstmann Little & Co. for $1.4 billion.
But he never stopped watching the business with a critical and sometimes sad eye, as he made clear when he accepted a Henry Johnson Fisher lifetime-achievement award from the Magazine Publishers of America in 1992.
"When I started out, nearly the entirely industry consisted of family-controlled businesses," he told the crowd at New York's Waldorf-Astoria hotel. "Business conversations with these people were not about money and finance. They were about publishing and journalism.
"That is certainly not the way things are."
If times have changed, his legacy seems intact. Red Herring editor in chief Joel Dreyfuss, former editor of PC Magazine, posted a tribute to Mr. Ziff on Sept. 11 that called him "one of the last real publishing giants."
"That's a very different term from being a giant publisher," Mr. Dreyfuss noted. "We have a lot of the latter these days as the suits try to please Wall Street instead of their readers."
Mr. Ziff is survived by his wife, Tamsen Ann, and sons Dirk, Robert and Daniel, according to the Los Angeles Times.