The Slow and Ugly Demise of Ziff Davis

March 8th, 2008

The New York Times stated it tastefully: “Ziff Davis Media Seeks Bankruptcy; Ad Revenue Down”; The Wall Street Journal‘s Deal Journal a little more directly: “Billionaire Brand Joins the 2008 Bankruptcy Bonanza.”

As the Deal Journal points out, Ziff-Davis is a company with a proud history that only in the last decade-and-a-half fell prey to the birds of prey that have unceremoniously gobbled up so many different media companies hoping for…convergence? Power? A quick flip? Who really knows?

Ziff-Davis Publishing Company was founded in 1927 by William Ziff and Bernard George Davis. With two subsequent generations of the Ziff family at the helm (Davis was bought out in 1958), in 1994 the company was finally sold in a series of transactions for a total of more than $2 billion.

Alan Meckler, who runs JupiterMedia, was not shy in his commentary on the sad story. “The history on this mess is profound. Lots of mistakes were made. None of the mistakes were made by the Ziff family that sold the business in 1994 for a ton of money to the private equity firm of Forstmann-Little. A year or so later Forstmann sold the company for about a $1 billion profit to Softbank. Softbank then went about methodically destroying a great company.” His analysis continues in some detail.

The finale is contained in The New York Times account: “Ziff Davis…said in a court filing that it had total debt of $500 million to $1 billion and total assets of $100 million to $500 million.”