Recalling 'One of Last Great Publishing Giants'

OBITUARY: William Ziff Jr. Passes away; Grew Family Biz into Top-Tier Player

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William b. ziff Jr., who built his family's magazine house into the powerhouse Ziff Davis Publishing, died of cancer Sept. 8 at home in Pawling, N.Y. He was 76.

He was only 23 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.

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.

When he became chairman emeritus in November 1993, Mr. Ziff made it clear he would be disappointed if his three sons sold the publishing empire his father began. But Mr. Ziff had transferred ownership to his sons in the mid-1980s, when he was seriously ill with prostate cancer, and stressed then the company's future was up to them.

Ten years later, the family sold 95% of the renewed company to Forstmann Little & Co. for $1.4 billion.

But Mr. Ziff 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 [now]."

intact legacy

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."

Michael J. Miller, the chief content officer at Ziff Davis Media and the editor in chief of PC Magazine from 1991 through 2005, posted his own thoughts on the PC Magazine blog.

"He always impressed me with his passion for the business and his knowledge in so many different areas," Mr. Miller wrote. "Any conversation with him was apt to move into unexpected directions. He inspired many technology journalists with his real enthusiasm for the publications and the industry we covered, and a real concern for helping both our readers and our advertisers.

"The era he ran Ziff-Davis remains a high point in technology publishing, and today's technology media would look very different without him," Mr. Miller added.

Readers added their own memories by commenting on the post-something Mr. Ziff, with his appreciation for the march of personal technology, no doubt would have appreciated.

"Mr. Ziff published several of my favorite magazines back in the '70's and '80's, the era of print magazines," one wrote. "Every month my mailbox would fill with Z-D published mags! Ah,the good old days. Gone forever. Now, Bill too."

Mr. Ziff is survived by his wife, Tamsen Ann, and sons Dirk, Robert and Daniel.
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