Remembering William Ziff Jr., a tech publishing pioneer

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William Ziff Jr., one of the great innovators in b-to-b publishing, died Sept. 9 at age 76 at his home in Pawling, N.Y.

Ziff inherited the family business from his father, William, who co-founded Ziff Davis in 1927 with Bernard Davis. After buying Davis out in the 1950s, Bill Ziff transformed the company into a trade publishing powerhouse.

He first acquired enthusiast titles such as Car and Driver and Popular Photography, as well as trade publications, including World Aviation Directory. He acquired the special-interest titles just as general-interest magazines were starting to wane.

In 1984, six years after he was first diagnosed with prostate cancer, Ziff sold the company's consumer and business magazines for $712.5 million, while holding on to computer-related titles such as PC Magazine. Again, his timing was impeccable, as corporate America started to adopt personal computing technology.

"He played an important role in both the growth of technology as an advertising category and showing that the media can be an enabler for b-to-b marketers," said Jason Young, president of Ziff Davis Media's consumer/small business group.

"What he did for b-to-b publishing was an extension of the special-interest magazine model: the ability to deliver content to a very specific group of readers [which enabled advertisers to tap] into the specific interest."

Young, who started working at Ziff Davis as an intern in 1990, added: "He was a visionary, but he also had the ability to understand markets and to do the right thing for customers. You have former Ziff executives throughout the b-to-b media industry who are carrying on that legacy."

In 1994, after his children told him that they did not want to take over the business, Ziff sold his publishing group to Forstmann Little & Co. for $1.4 billion.

Ziff is survived by his second wife, Tamsen Ann Ziff, and three sons.

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