William Ziff Jr., Technology Publishing Pioneer, Dies at 76

By John Pallatto  |  Posted 2006-09-11 Print this article Print

The son of one of Ziff-Davis' co-founders, he helped lead the company through 40 years of varying trends and interests of the American magazine reader.

William Ziff, Jr., who took over his father's publishing company in the 1950s and led it through period of growth that followed the varying tastes of the American middle class from cars to the personal computer, died at his Pawling, N.Y., home on Sept. 9. He was 76.

Ziff died "peacefully with his family at his home" from the complications of cancer, a family spokesman said.

As head of Ziff-Davis Publishing Co. for nearly 40 years, Ziff transformed a company that was originally focused on aviation, travel and adventure magazines into a national powerhouse focused on business, consumer and later computer technology titles.

The original Ziff-Davis, Inc. started in Chicago in 1927 and was founded by William Ziff's father, William B. Ziff, Sr., and Bernard G. Davis.

William Ziff, Jr. took over the company in 1953 at age 23 after his father's death. Two years later he bought the interest of the Davis family.

He developed it into a specialty publishing company that produced magazines that followed the changing hobbies and interests of the American public, from cars to boats to personal computers and video games.

Anticipating the vast expansion of leisure time activities and the national obsession with consumerism, he introduced magazines to tap into these trends, including several signature magazine titles such as Car & Driver, Yachting, Modern Bride and Popular Photography.

By the time the family sold its interest in the company during the mid-1990s, Ziff-Davis focused exclusively on computers, technology, videogames and the business of information technology.

As the age of the personal computer dawned in 1981, the company launched Computer Gaming World that same year. A year later, in 1982, Ziff-Davis acquired PC Magazine, which would remain one of its signature publications during the next 25 years as the PC era brought a computer into nearly every household and business in the country.

Just two years later, Ziff sold the majority of the company's business and consumer titles but retained a small division of computer-related properties, which included PC Magazine and startup publications PC Week and later MacWeek.

Ziff-Davis continued to add new computer-oriented titles through the rest of the 80s including PC/Computing and MacUser. In 1989, the company started ZDNet as a news service for users on the nascent Internet.

In the early 1990s, Bill Ziff Jr. retired after turning over management of the family-owned publishing company to his three adult sons, Dirk, Robert and Daniel.

The brothers decided to take advantage of a booming market for publishing properties in 1994 by selling 95 percent of Ziff-Davis Publishing to the Forstmann, Little & Co. investment banking company for $1.4 billion. It was the same year that the company started Interactive Week and Family PC magazines.

Corporate ownership of the company changed barely a year later when Softbank Corp., headed by Japanese technology entrepreneur Masayoshi Son, bought Ziff-Davis for nearly double what Forstmann, Little paid for it.

Softbank eventually took the company public in the late 1990s before selling off the Ziff-Davis properties in the early 2000s in the midst of the dot-com era recession.

Besides his three sons, Ziff is survived by his wife, Tamsen Ann, and four grandchildren.

The family will hold a memorial service at the Frank E. Campbell Funeral Home at 1076 Madison Ave. in New York City from 4 to 8 p.m. on Sept. 14. Burial will be private.

In lieu of flowers, donations may be made to the Pawling Community Foundation, PO Box 657, Pawling, N.Y. 12564.

John Pallatto John Pallatto is eWEEK.com's Enterprise Applications Center editor. His near 30 years of experience as a professional journalist began as a member of the founding staff of PC Week in March 1984. Pallatto was PC Week's West Coast bureau chief, a senior editor at Ziff Davis' Internet Computing magazine and the West Coast bureau chief at Internet World magazine.

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