Friday, September 15, 2006

BoSacks Speaks Out: Bill Ziff, Publishing Pioneer, dies at 76

BoSacks Speaks Out: Bill Ziff, Publishing Pioneer, dies at 76

For a man of many words, I find my word skills insufficient to the task of describing to those of you who didn’t know of him, the genius, and multiple successes of niche master, Bill Ziff. He was one of the giants of that great publishing period at the twilight of the last century. Not that great publishing empires are over, but rather that they are changed to an almost unrecognizable form in relation to past renditions. I guess old publishing was more linear and two dimensional, compared to current trends which need to have three or four dimensions of content distribution.

There is no easy way to form a comparison. Writers will still write, editors will still edit, and publishers of course will still publish. But Bill Ziff actually created two huge niche publishing empires. He sold the first due to health considerations and, upon recovery, started a new and tremendously successful publishing machine the second time around just as strong or perhaps even stronger if the sales price of $1.7 billion means anything to you. And that was in last century dollars. That is an amazing feat. I know of no other publisher who has achieved a similar success twice. I am sure that someone may have done it, but tonight I am drawing a blank and am not aware of it. Bill Ziff was the Zen master, the Niche master of all time and space when it comes to publishing formulas. He seemed prescient in his ability to identify and see the addicted brand devoted hobbyist before anyone else and maximize that vision with fantastic ad revenues.

I had the good fortune to work for Bill Ziff and Ziff- Davis Publishing in the early 1990s. Those were the peak years of Bill’s second empire. Our struggles seem to me, almost comical in retrospect. The problems then were the reverse of today’s publishing woes. How big a binder could we find to print an unheard of number of folios? Monthly magazine, inches thick, that were gargantuan in page count and overflowing with bound-in inserts.

All that is true, but what is left unsaid so far is the quality of the way in which the employees were treated. By whatever criteria one can use to judge the employees were treated better there than any other place I can remember. From heath care, salaries, vacation time or free membership to health clubs, there was a constant delivery of generous compensation and respect. The result was the staff was happy to work there and was equally happy to work hard, very hard.

All that was created and crafted by the genius and inspired management of Mr. Bill Ziff.