Publishing vet Perlis joins Ziff in key post

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In an unexpected shift of executives, Ziff-Davis this week names magazine industry veteran Michael S. Perlis president of its publishing operations.

Mr. Perlis, 45, succeeds Claude Sheer, who takes the new post of chief Internet strategist, scoping ways for Ziff-Davis to restage itself in a wired world. Mr. Sheer, 48, remains on Ziff-Davis' board and will report to Chairman-CEO Eric Hippeau.

"We want to be even more involved and more focused on the Internet, and Claude will help us do that," said Mr. Hippeau.


An executive with both consumer and technology publishing experience, Mr. Perlis is a former colleague of Mr. Hippeau. Both worked for Ziff rival International Data Group 12 years ago. Having turned down job opportunities with Ziff in the past, Mr. Perlis--who resigned as president of TVSM earlier this year after its sale to TV Guide--said the timing now seemed right.

"Thanks to the Internet, there is no question that computing is going mainstream. Technology is the first true new lifestyle category in more than a decade," Mr. Perlis said.

Along with Mr. Hippeau, Mr. Perlis will re-team with another former colleague, Jim Spanfeller, recently promoted to VP-publishing director of Ziff's consumer titles. Messrs. Perlis and Spanfeller worked together at Playboy.

"I'm really counting on Jim to play a senior role in our consumer and Internet initiatives," Mr. Perlis said, adding he is impressed with the growth of Yahoo! Internet Life under Mr. Spanfeller's watch.

Mr. Sheer said his task will be to help make the Internet the focus of Ziff-Davis by working with the executives and managers who run print, trade shows, ZDNet and other businesses. He will not, however, oversee ZDNet businesses. Dan Rosensweig will remain as president of ZD Internet Productions and continues to report to Mr. Hippeau.


"The opportunity here is to transform all of our businesses by making them more Web-centric," Mr. Sheer said. "Print will still be print, but at the center of our mission will be the Web."

The changes come as Ziff-Davis labors to fix pressing problems, particularly in print.

The company faces its first ad page decline since the PC era began. Ad pages at the top three tech publishers--Ziff, IDG and CMP Media--are down an average 8.6% for the first nine months of 1998, according to ad tracker Adscope. Ziff-Davis has suffered the most, with pages plummeting 14.9% through September compared to the same period a year ago. Ziff-Davis expects this year to be the first in which tech print pages are down since IBM Corp. launched the PC in 1981.

Mr. Sheer said his move was not related to the softening in advertising, adding he had discussed moving to a Web-related post even before taking the print assignment last year. Mr. Hippeau agreed, adding that he views the technology market softness as temporary.

"We have every reason to believe technology will continue to grow and innovate," Mr. Hippeau said. "As technology expands and develops new products, that always spawns a lot of marketing. So, for both the mid-term and long term, we believe we will see growth again."


Mr. Perlis is also undaunted by current technology market woes, but said the goal is to get ad pages back up as quickly as possible.

The computer print slowdown reflects both tech industry troubles, such as the Asian financial crisis, and a shift in spending patterns. Advertisers have recently shifted gears to other outlets, such as business publications, TV, the Internet and trade shows.

Mr. Sheer joined Ziff-Davis in 1980 and took over as print chief in mid-1997--near the peak of the tech print market. With the slowdown, Mr. Sheer had to pull back on product launches and instead focus on cutting costs and shoring up existing titles. Ziff-Davis last month closed three marginal titles--Equip, Internet Business and Windows Pro--and cut 10% of its staff.

Copyright November 1998, Crain Communications Inc.

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