Can Anyone Make Ziff Davis Sexy?

Buyout artists Willis Stein want to bring the publisher's plodding magazines up to Net speed

Publishing folk still shake their heads in disbelief over how buyout firm Willis Stein & Partners flipped Petersen Cos., a middling magazine group including such titles as Hot Rod and Motor Trend, for a cool $1 billion profit just 2 1/2 years after buying it. That was a year ago. Now, Willis Stein is out to work some more media alchemy, shelling out $780 million to buy Ziff-Davis Publishing, whose big titles PC Computing and PC Magazine have been slumping amid the Net explosion. What are these low-profile Chicagoans on to now? "When they asked Wayne Gretzky when he retired what made him such a great hockey player, he said, `Most people skate to where the puck is. I skate to where the puck is going to be,"' says partner Avy H. Stein. "And that's what we try to do."

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