35 Years, 200 Issues
A Narrative of MultiLingual‘s History
By Marjolein Groot Nibbelink and Cameron Rasmusson
It’s June, 1987, and a small brick office in Sandpoint, Idaho, reverberates with the monotonous “ca-choong” of staples being driven through 29 sheets of heavy paper. Pushing down on the industrial stapler is Seth Thomas Schneider, founder of MultiLingual Computing. Thirty-five years later, there are two hard copies left of the first issue, slowly turning beige and brittle in another brick office in Sandpoint, a stone’s throw from where they were created.
Schneider began publishing a list of products that support “foreign” languages after getting back from China in 1987, where he’d been researching the market for the Macintosh.
“I was building a system for the French Language Departments at Stanford and Harvard to send accented characters through the Internet so their classes could do a joint newsletter, as well as helping with some innovative language-learning software being developed out of Stanford,” said Schneider.
This was all intriguing for a young man having grown up in small towns in the Rocky Mountains of America. But his time listening to shortwave radio and taking language classes piqued his interest in the global community. Seth’s own time focusing on Arabic and studying in the Middle East formalized his education. After college, he moved down to Palo Alto to be around the Silicon Valley folks.
“I started to get a reputation in the community as someone to go to when trying to get a piece of software to work in another language,” Schneider said. “ComputerWare was the first all Macintosh store in the world, and I worked in their showroom assisting international customers. I did so much research on the solutions available I started publishing lists to hand out.”
So he printed and stapled these lists together and handed them out when giving talks at companies like Oracle. Meanwhile Seth also helped start groups within the Society of Technical Communications and the American Translators Association (ATA) that would help writers and translators get their computer working in other languages. There were meetings in Palo Alto for software developers, and Schneider was involved in turning that group into the IMUG multilingual users group. He devised an installer that would make a Macintosh capable of supporting several languages at the same time and called this MultiScript.
“There were a lot of projects I worked on that gave me enough experience to land a job at Apple in the International Support Group managing worldwide localization,” Schneider said.
Scheider was also involved in federal government projects at the time. He worked with Microsoft and Sun Microsystems as they moved their underlying architecture to support Unicode and extend more languages to their users.
The whole time, Schneider kept researching and publishing. Each version kept getting nicer and nicer as they went from a list to a catalog to a full-on buyers guide. In 1989 the International Software Catalog was released, and Scheider hired someone else to do the stapling for him. Then came the Worldwide Product Directory screaming “Asian PostScript Is Here!!” The MultiLingual Computing Buyer’s Guide, which counted 146 pages, included an Apple Macintosh ad and an article for parents worried their kids were doing drugs. These were printed in the nearby village of Clark Fork by Worldwide Publishing Group and distributed from Palo Alto, California.
Article contributions came in from all over the world. It became clear that a magazine was the best format, and in 1991, Scheider moved back home to North Idaho to launch himself full-time into the adventure. By 1992, issues were regular, and a subscription cost $30 for the US, $39 in Canada, and £24 in Europe.
“The industry was very small, and I knew every single subscriber personally, as well as most of the vendors and software developers,” Schneider said. “This is how we grew — one person at a time. I think of it as a community effort. We were all helping each other with technical challenges, processes, and new ideas. As a result the industry and the magazine grew.”
In 1994 the first machine-bound issue (still using staples for saddle-stitching) was released under the “MultiLingual Computing” brand name and cost $6.95. Cover articles were titled “Translation Software,” “Power Japanese,” and “International Windows” — all extremely ambivalent by today’s standard. Solidifying a clear focus on translation technology — both software and hardware — the ‘90s proved perfect for the launch of a language-industry trade magazine.
The goal was to provide an unconnected, ill-defined industry credibility and validity. This worked, and the magazine was well positioned to sustain itself and grow. There were other publications and organizations, and each one contributed toward moving the industry into its modern age.
The magazine was also driven by the staff that joined the team. The goal was to see technology become language independent and that became a reality throughout the ‘90s.
“I was not an easy person to work with as I demanded a lot and wasn’t graceful at times,” Schneider said. “A lot of truly exceptional and talented individuals contributed every issue to pulling it all together.”
Donna Parrish, who would become MultiLingual’s publisher for 20 years, was invited to the team in 1996. Parrish and Schneider met when he was singing in the church choir she directed. Seeing how exceptional she was, he invited her to join the team, “and she was fantastic.”
“Seth asked me to join … knowing I am not a linguist, but hoping that with my technical background, I could at least appreciate the obstacles to overcome,” she said. “Unicode was fairly new then.”
As MultiLingual gained popularity around the world, the team changed the binding from saddle-stitching to perfect-bound, using a hot glue to secure folios into a cover with a spine. By the year 2000, MultiLingual Computing & Technology magazine was published nine times a year, counting about 84 pages per issue.
Buoyed by the success, Schneider formulated a plan to pass on the magazine, which he proposed to Parrish. She was leading most of the team at MultiLingual at that point. Many who were part of the staff in 2000 would stay on until 2020.
“The ‘90s proved perfect for the launch of a language-industry trade magazine.”
Schneider announced in issue #36 that he would be traveling to warmer climates. He spent time sailing and practicing yoga after that, moving on to other ventures and industries and pursuing yet another passion: ultimate wellbeing.
“I’m very grateful for the joy of it all,” Schneider said. “Some days were hard, like all-nighters to meet a deadline or running out of cash, but most of the days were very fun and lively. I learned a lot about myself and … it’s important to remember that we were being of service to the many fine folks who make the industry vibrant and alive.”
Parrish stepped in to fill his shoes. The very first thing she did once she assumed leadership was bring in a coffee machine and make Martin Luther King, Jr. Day a mandatory day off.
“At the time I became publisher, the magazine itself was a well-oiled machine,” said Parrish. “Seth had a great vision and eye for design. Plus, he was able to assemble a superb team.”
The Bigelow building is one of the oldest structures in Sandpoint’s historic town center and has been MultiLingual’s headquarters since 1996.
In 2001 the magazine reached 21,000 people in 52 countries — a long shot from its humble beginnings. It was as good a time as any for a rebranding.
“I believe that it’s important to brush up magazine design to make it fresh and to appeal to new tastes,” Parrish said. “That’s one thing I wish we had done more of, but it’s an intensive effort! In 2001, we wanted the magazine to reflect more current times. … [We wanted] fewer serifs.”
Editorial style, on the other hand, was a slippier element to pin down.
“It’s a bit tricky,” Parrish said. “We had authors from all over the world, many of whom were not writing in their first language. I find this impressive! But it was important to edit their texts for readability, yet maintain each author’s voice. A concept that we held to was to publish independent, non-advertorial content. We tried to remind authors many times that the less they mentioned their own company’s name, the more credibility they would have.”
“The writers were great,” she added. “In the early years, we had some standout product reviewers. Unfortunately, as products became systems in and of themselves, it was harder to find someone with the inclination, bandwidth, and hardware to test them. That said, we still had some good reviews, articles, and columns. There were so many [authors] that we enjoyed working with; people whose submissions were a joy to read. I don’t want to leave any out, so I will leave everyone out.”
In publishing, it’s important to form brand extensions based on reader feedback and market changes. Parrish took that responsibility seriously.
“We began work on our annual Editorial Index and Resource Directory, which was first published at the end of 2003,” she said.
In 2006, with issue #76, the team modernized the logo and magazine covers. The original logo was replaced with the now-so-familiar round glyph. The first focus section was introduced later that year: a Getting Started Guide for Europe. Next were Medical Localization, Content Management, and Korea. These proved to be popular content vehicles, and the company truly flourished.
In 2004, illness took away the managing editor, Laurel Wagers, and years later CFO Jennifer Del Carlo in 2018. Both tragic passings were a blow to the staff.
“We lost [them] both to cancer,” Parrish said. “Of course we were all stricken. We were a small team who saw each other every workday, and we were more than coworkers. But you soldier on. In both cases, we had people ready and willing to step into new responsibilities. Jennifer had the time and foresight to help set up her transition. Laurel’s illness was more sudden, but Katie Botkin walked in the week Laurel became ill and was brought on board. As with the rest of the team, I missed them sorely, both personally and workwise.”
This was also the decade when LocWorld was born. And of course, with any new ambition came a new set of challenges.
“Ulrich Henes of The Localization Institute suggested that, as objective participants in our industry, we should put on a business conference that would let buyers and sellers come together in a friendly atmosphere with no agendas from the organizers,” said Parrish. “I thought it was a pretty good idea!”
“Regarding challenges, starting any new company from scratch is tough!” she continued. “Challenges were many. The logistics of the meeting space, hotel, what we would offer and how presented more questions than answers. Next there was the content: how would we source the program? Then there were the mechanics: For example, at the time, online registration tools were clunky at best. Finally, just figuring out the staffing – who would do what – was a process! But I think we worked most of that out.”
The 2008 financial crash was hard on the magazine, as almost all print media experienced. According to Parrish, “This was a sobering time for us. We cut advertising prices to encourage our advertisers to stay with us. The telling thing was while ad revenues went down substantially, our readership grew.”
“In 2015, we felt it was time to rebrand again with a nod to the original logo (hello serifs!) but in the magazine style: Use more graphics and a font that is more friendly to multilingual content,” she added.
Around that same time, Marjolein Groot Nibbelink was hired in 2015 to rejuvenate marketing.
“Upon settling down in Sandpoint in 2014 after ten years of living as a nomad, I was introduced to Jennifer Del Carlo,” Groot Nibbelink said. “She was recovering from chemotherapy at that time and looking to cut back her hours. When Donna interviewed me I had no clue what localization was and said something to the effect of ‘I love localization — it’s always best to buy your produce at the farmers market.’ I remember Donna’s bemused smile, but she never corrected me.”
The prospect of a leadership role was the last thing on Groot Nibbelink’s mind. But sure enough, Parrish guided her toward a future day when she would take the reins.
A display of all of MultiLingual’s covers adorns the office’s 1909 brick wall in Sandpoint, Idaho. Top left is the very first issue, from 1987.
“Neither of us might have considered I would become her successor, but my curiosity always drove me to ask many questions,” Groot Nibbelink said. “‘Why?’ reverberated my voice in the office hallways for many years. It became a source of irritation for some. Donna is kind and patient and always tried to answer my inquiries. She taught me a lot.”
Through advertising sales, Groot Nibbelink learned how to preflight for print, the logic of page layout, and the difference between crop, registration, bleed, and safe areas on a page. In working with several editors and being included in the coversheeting process, she could see what changes would be made to articles. This sometimes resulted in five or six versions of an article, after the layout phase.
During the second half of the 2010s, the magazine’s reach nearly doubled through targeted partnerships with events and universities, reaching 40,000 people in 102 countries by 2019. Then there was another market crash in 2020 with the coronavirus pandemic. During that time, the publication moved to a digital-only format, and its survival was in serious question.
“When the worldwide economy was affected by the pandemic, the magazine’s financial situation was badly affected,” Parrish said. “One of the major costs was printing and shipping the physical magazine. So, we went to digital only.”
“There were many sleepless nights before I accepted the necessity of selling the magazine,” she continued. “It was not an easy decision, because I knew that it would affect the team as well as me. I am thrilled to see the magazine in good hands now and see it prospering once again.”
Eventually, a buyer emerged in Nimdzi Insights. But that, too, presented challenges. Nimdzi downsized the company from 12 people to two. According to Groot Nibbelink, those were difficult days.
Maintaining editorial independence from Nimdzi’s content flow was of primary concern. The transition, like most, took time to smooth out. Eventually, all parties settled on an arrangement that retained MultiLingual’s identity and ability to cover the language industry fairly.
The transition also landed Groot Nibbelink in the big office as MultiLingual’s third publisher. It was a role she never envisioned but takes seriously.
“MultiLingual‘s team had always been like a family,” Groot Nibbelink said. “In 2020 it felt like we were briefly orphaned and then adopted by new parents. Now, we’re back to being a tight-knit team that works on trust, efficiency, and honor.”
Against the odds, MultiLingual Media LLC rose from the ashes. By 2021, with Marjolein as publisher and CEO, sales nearly doubled and topped the previous 10 years, putting the magazine on a profitable course once again.
“In this day and age, when online news and reporting is constantly injected with falsehoods and obnoxious advertising, people are realizing that magazines and newspapers are still the most reliable source of in-depth information,” Groot Nibbelink said. “An educated editorial team filters all available information into a comprehensive set of articles, specially selected for a specific audience. Fortunately for us publishers, that means the popularity of print is on the rise, and the value of print real estate with it.”
All revenues were invested into a new team of ambitious and international talent and to expand offerings such as with MultiLingual TV on YouTube, and more original online content.
“Of course we were all stricken. We were a small team who saw each other every workday, and we were more than coworkers. But you soldier on. In both cases, we had people ready and willing to step into new responsibilities.”
From July 2020, with just two employees, MultiLingual grew into a thriving publication once again. The staff gradually expanded to 14, with an additional seven people in editorial and strategic advisory roles. The physical experience of reading MultiLingual changed with the times, too. The staff shifted printing materials to bring the publication in line with high-end magazines of the time. For instance, the paper used for its pages shifted to one step lighter, with a glossy coating that exuded high-end professionalism. In 2022 the magazine will be published monthly — more than ever before. In addition, the team is tackling new publishing mediums and exploring the possibility of expanded product lines.
The transformation comes at a vital time for the language industry, which is poised for explosive growth over the coming years. According to Groot Nibbelink, the magazine and its ancillary projects have plenty of room to grow along with it.
While the future is impossible to predict — the past few years have certainly proven that — Groot Nibbelink is confident of one thing. As long as the magazine continues to publish, the MultiLingual crew will have a good time doing it.
“I simply love the diversity of this job. You can never predict what a day will bring,” she said. “I also enjoy working with a multinational and multicultural group of people who feed my curiosity even when I’m mostly stuck in a single location. I love the art of publishing and have learned a great deal about layout design, color choices, fonts, and the printing process. It is such an old and expressive form to share information — and it is timeless.”
In his 2021 book Characters with Character, Jost Zetzsche writes “This seemingly random but attractive potpourri of non-Western characters served as MultiLingual’s logo … all the way through 2006 [when] it was rather suddenly dropped. Why? Well, the editor and staff had a second look and realized that the graphic designer had intentionally chosen characters which embedded a hidden message when read as Latin characters.” Squint to get the full experience of this version’s kindness.
(Goodbye, serif!) Serifs are so 1900s. In order to modernize and fit the logo on stationary and meet expanding needs, the leading Chinese character was preserved, but three new non-Latin characters were added to form the “glyph” that would remain at the base of the logo going forward.
(Hello, serif!) Sans serif fonts dominate the web and desktop publishing, but in print, serifs are still mainstay. To honor the tradition of print publishing, the magazine brand was reverted to a serif font.
Using the new style guide from 2020, an external designer matched the characters in the glyph to the font used in the new masthead (goodbye again, serif). Note how the lower part of the “g” matches the horseshoe-like curve in on the right of the glyph. The script-specific characteristics are sacrificed to the new, clean look of MultiLingual’s current logo.
Age: In his 50s
Birthplace: Somewhere in the US
Current location: Spokane, WA
Years active with ML: 13
Years as a publisher: 1987-2000
Fun fact: Seth is a highly trained and senior yoga teacher with a graduate degree in spiritual psychology
Birthplace: Welch, West Virginia, USA
Current location: Sandpoint, ID
Years active with ML: 24
Years as a publisher: 2000-2020
Fun fact: Seth sang in the church choir that I was directing. This was how he knew me to ask me to work for him.
Marjolein Groot Nibbelink
Birthplace: Goes, The Netherlands
Current location: Sandpoint, ID, USA
Years active with ML: 7
Years as a publisher: 2020-2022
Fun fact: Cycling is more than just a hobby. Some years I ride 10,000 miles.
Marjolein Groot NibbelinK is the publisher of MultiLingual magazine and CEO of MultiLingual Media.
Cameron Rasmusson is editor in chief of MultiLingual magazine.