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William B. Ziff Jr., 76; Publisher Built Two Magazine Empires

September 12, 2006|From Bloomberg News

William B. Ziff Jr., a pioneer in technology media who took a small, family-owned publishing firm and built it into two magazine empires, died of cancer Saturday at his home in Pawling, N.Y. He was 76.

Ziff was chairman and chief executive of Ziff Communications Co. from 1953 to 1994. During that time, he established PC Magazine and PC Week as the nation's top-selling computer titles.

"Bill Ziff was a visionary who saw before anyone the importance that computers and technology would have, not just in business, but in everyone's daily life," said Eric Hippeau, who took over as chairman and chief executive of the magazine division after Ziff sold 95% of it to Forstmann Little & Co. for $1.4 billion in 1994.

In 1995, Japanese computer software wholesaler Softbank Corp. paid Forstmann $2.1 billion for the publishing group and combined it with Ziff's trade-show and conference business, which Softbank had acquired from Ziff in 1994 for $202 million.

Softbank took the company public in 1998. The company, now called Ziff-Davis Media Inc., was purchased by Chicago-based leveraged buyout firm Willis Stein & Partners LP for $780 million in April 2000.

Ziff was 23 when he took over Ziff-Davis Publishing Co. after his father, William B. Ziff, died in 1953.

In the early 1980s, Ziff began focusing on technology, acquiring PC Magazine and launching PC Week, Electronic Gaming Monthly and Expert Gamer. ZDNet, the firm's online unit, began in 1988.

The elder Ziff and Bernard Davis founded Ziff Communications in 1927 with the publication of Popular Aviation.

They later expanded with special-interest titles such as Popular Photography and Space Patrol. William B. Ziff Jr. sold most of those magazines, including Car and Driver, in the 1980s after he was diagnosed with prostate cancer.

"He was an entrepreneur who had a real love for magazines," said Hippeau, who left Ziff-Davis in 2000.

Among Ziff's strengths was his willingness to invest in his publications and protect editors from interference from advertisers, said Dan Farber, who worked at Ziff-Davis for 12 years and was editor in chief of MacWeek and PC Week, which was renamed eWeek in 2000.

"He revered editorial and made sure the church-and-state wall separating the editorial and business sides was not breached," Farber said in an e-mail.

Born June 24, 1930, Ziff earned his bachelor's degree from Rutgers in 1951 and did postgraduate work in philosophy at Heidelberg University and the University of Madrid.

A report on Ziff in Business Week some time ago called him "a brilliant business strategist [who] was probably the first special-interest publisher to develop psychographic data -- psychological profiles of readers."

Survivors include his wife, Tamsen Ann; and their sons, Dirk, Robert and Daniel Ziff, who run the financial firm Ziff Bros. Investments; and four grandchildren.

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