William Ziff, 76, Led Magazine Empires

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The New York Sun

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

Ziff, chairman and chief executive officer of Ziff Communications Co. between 1953 and 1994, established PC Magazine and PC Week as the country’s top-selling computer titles.

Ziff took over Ziff-Davis Publishing Co. when his father, William B. Ziff, died in 1953. In the early 1980s, Ziff began focusing on technology. He acquired PC Magazine and launched PCWeek, Electronic Gaming Monthly, and Expert Gamer. ZDNet, the firm’s online unit, began in 1988.

“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,” Eric Hippeau, who worked at Ziff Davis Media Inc. from 1989 until 2000 and succeeded Ziff as chief executive officer when Ziff retired in 1994, said.

Ziff sold 95% of Ziff-Davis Publishing, the company’s magazine division, to Forstmann Little & Co. for $1.4 billion in 1994. A year later, Japan’s Softbank Corp. paid Forstmann $2.1 billion for the group, taking it public in 1998.

Ziff Davis Media was purchased by the Chicago-based leveraged buyout firm Willis Stein & Partners LP for $780 million for in April 2000.

Also in 1994, Ziff sold the company’s trade-show and conference business to Japanese computer software wholesaler Softbank Corp. for $202 million.

The elder Ziff and Bernard Davis founded Ziff Communications in 1927 with the publication of Popular Aviation. The younger Ziff bought out Davis’s share of the company in 1953.

The company later published such titles as Popular Photography, Popular Electronics, Car & Driver, Stereo Review, and Space Patrol. William Ziff sold most of those in the 1980s.

Among Ziff’s strengths was his willingness to invest in his publications and protect editors from interference from advertisers, an editor at Ziff Davis for 12 years, Dan Farber, said.

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

The New York Sun

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