Speaking of MultiLingual

Speaking of MultiLingual
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April 12, 2017
Renato and Michael with Donna Parrish
 Where do you go for in-depth news and information about the language industry? For more than 25 years, MultiLingual Magazine has been the primary answer. Learn more about the magazine's past, how the media landscape is changing, and why relevant news coverage is so valuable for professional language service providers. 
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Michael Very seldom can you find current news, interesting articles–or even relevant discussions–about the language industry.

In fact, one of the main reasons we launched Globally Speaking is because, until recently, there’s been virtually no media resource that covers in-depth localization issues.

But over the years there has been one exception. MultiLingual Magazine has been around for over two-and-a-half decades. And for the most part, it’s been the only localization trade publication in the industry.

Renato recently sat down with the magazine’s publisher to talk about its history, its future and how the whole media landscape is changing, and how MultiLingual is adjusting. So let’s get the conversation started.
Donna My name is Donna Parish. I am publisher of the magazine MultiLingual and co-organizer of the conference LocWorld.
Renato So MultiLingual has been around for 26 years now. That’s remarkable. It’s one of the most important publications that we have in the language industry. What do you think made MultiLingual successful in such a long period of time?
Donna I think one of the things that we concentrate on is that we listen. We all, in the magazine, care a lot about our industry, but none of us pretends to be a professional. So we listen to the professionals, and we listen to the trends that they say are coming around and we try to follow them. We don’t have a soapbox of our own. We want to provide a platform for other people to discuss what’s going on.
Renato So it’s very interesting, because I remember in the past you had a lot of content that you created yourself. You had a staff of writers and things like that. But lately I see that most of the content is actually generated by industry experts.
Donna Well, it’s true. It’s hard to write with genuine sincerity when you’re not in the trenches doing the work that other people are. So we prefer to let them speak.
Renato So how has this publishing model changed over the years? You were not the founder of MultiLingual completely, is that right?
Donna That’s correct. Seth Schneider was the founder. He brought me on in 1997. I am not a linguist. He brought me on because I have a technical background; I was a programmer for 25 years, and he knew that I would have an appreciation for the technical side of the business. So I worked there for about three years, and he was growing tired of it, and I was growing more interested, and so I bought it from him. It’s a great way to get rid of your boss.
Renato Do you recommend it?
Donna Yes, I do.
Renato Okay. What attracted you to-, well, I imagine that one of the reasons why you joined MultiLingual was the location.
Donna True, true; it was in my home town already, so that was great, but the industry itself was very attractive to me. When you have a group of people whose main focus is to improve communication around the world, I mean, how can it be any better?
Renato Exactly, it’s true. Bring people together. When you have writers and you have publications that focus on certain verticals, certain industries, certain geographies, so you get writers from all over the world. How do you handle that? Because one of the frequent concerns that I hear from people who want to publish and want to share their knowledge in MultiLingual is that, ‘I’m not a good a writer. My English is not that good.’ Do you provide any kind of support?
Donna Oh, absolutely. We have good copy editors in-house, so if you are at least able to express your concepts, we can help, hopefully, polish them and still keep your voice in the article.
Renato Yes. Well, and this is the exciting part, because I confess, I don’t read all the articles, because some topics are very boring to me; but there are some topics that are fascinating, and I’ve learned a lot over the years. I’ve even written some articles and been featured a few times, but how is the selection process? How do you choose who’s going to be on and who’s not? Do you have a high rejection rate, low rejection rate? How is that?
Donna It’s a fairly low rejection rate, actually. Our main concern is that the information is something that’s useful for our readers without being advertorial. We map out each year what topics we want to focus on, but we’re always open to any topics. We have an editorial board that we call on when we’re looking for articles on particular topics, and they will write or recommend someone to write an article along that line. So then conferences and books that are out give us new topics to write about.
Renato Is there something, any major change that you have identified over the years in how we’re talking about this industry? I have a sense we talk very often among people in the industry, how mature the industry has become over the years. How does that impact or how is it reflected in MultiLingual?
Donna I enjoy looking at some of the old issues, because there will be a whole article about how to get your keyboard in Russian, because when I joined, Unicode was not a de facto thing, and so it was a real issue to do that sort of thing. So we wrote a lot about just minutiae technical stuff, and now we’ve moved, I would say, maybe up a few thousand feet into the project management, the workflow, how do we get the whole job done versus how do we do the little bitsy parts of it, because that has been solved quite a bit.
Renato It’s interesting, because one of the conversations that we had recently was about the fact that this industry’s not so much about language, but it’s more about process and projects, how do you manage projects and things like that, so it’s very interesting that you noticed that trend there.

So MultiLingual is traditionally a paper-based magazine. People love to read them. This is actually something that I’ve told my bosses in several organizations, is that, wherever I go in the world to talk to a potential client, I always see MultiLingual on their desks, so decision-makers, buyers of translation services, have MultiLingual Magazine on their desks, and I notice that. Very often, because sometimes I was an advertiser.
Donna Thank you.
Renato And sometimes there was my picture and people would tell me, ‘Oh, I know you from your picture in MultiLingual.’ But the world is changing, and publishing is essentially digital. How do you combine these two worlds? How do you combine the digital magazine, which is available free I understand, or not?
Donna Well, it depends, yes.
Renato Okay. Tell us about it.
Donna No, it is subscription-based, but if you attend some of the conferences that we sponsor, you can get a free digital subscription, and also we have it set up so that if you were to share any article you can read four or five pages of the magazine before you’re asked to log in.
Renato Okay, perfect. I went to all the conferences, so I have a subscription for life.
Donna For your grandchildren.
Renato Exactly. But how is this coexistence of digital, paper, why do you still have paper?
Donna Well, that’s a good question. We are told by our advertisers that they like to still see the paper, and it gives it some validity, I think. That said, actually, the interesting thing about the business is that we spend more on shipping those magazines than we do on producing them. That said, there are a lot of people who prefer the digital, because they get it faster, and then of course the nice thing, we have—even though the magazine’s been around since 1989 or whatever it was—our digital editions have been online since the beginning of 2006, and they are still online, and anybody who’s a subscriber can go back to any of those, and we have indexes where they can search. So it’s quite a library that’s available. I think what we have to realize is that we are a platform of information, whether that’s in digital or print form. Where we’ll go from here I don’t know, but we have to realize—and we do—that we are not publishers of a magazine, we are providers of information.
Renato Yes. Well this, I think, is the great value that a magazine like MultiLingual provides to the market, is the fact that you have a platform to share and also archive valuable information for us. But the information wants to be free, so we tend to discuss the speed of the information and free availability of the information. How is this new world of immediate sharing and 24-hour news—or fake news, depending on how you look at it—how does that co-exist with a magazine with a publishing calendar? Is it 10 or 11 issues a year?
Donna Yes, nine actually. Well, it’s interesting because, of course, I’m in-depth in the language industry, but of course I also follow the media industry, and I’m consistently disappointed in how people are grappling with these changes in our industry now. I follow the major publishers and I think, ‘You can’t come up with anything better than what we’ve got right now?’
Renato Because the model’s still heavily based on advertising.
Donna Yes.
Renato So that’s what allows us to read the good content and to share that content is the fact that you have advertisers, companies in the industry that want to showcase their services to the readers, right? So it’s an old model. Now everything is digital marketing and so on. But I find that you’ve found a good compromise, because what you essentially have, your digital publication is the magazine online. It’s not a website with text that you can skip the ads.
Donna Right. We actually looked into all of that when it started coming out and now I see that it has not been proven to be the golden egg.
Renato Not yet.
Donna Yes.
Renato No, because I personally, I love to see the ads. I look at all of them, I read all of them. I don’t read all the articles but I flip through all the pages every time. The moment I receive the magazine, the first thing I do is I go through it, and I look at who’s written. If it’s somebody that I know, I’ll send a shout-out, ‘Hey, good article,’ and things like that, but I understand that we’re in a transition period. So when you think about the future of MultiLingual, what stresses you? What keeps you up at night?
Donna Well, just that actually. We’re looking at how can we be more dynamic, more immediate, with maybe some of our articles, but then how can we fund that? That’s exactly the problem.
Renato One of my biggest frustrations is that—I’ll tell you a little story. Remember the Industry Standard, that magazine that was the big thing during the dot com boom? I remember that I had a marketing manager at the company that I was at the time, and I told her, ‘If you put the CEO on the cover of the Industry Standard, I’ll give you a $10,000 bonus. If you put me on the cover of the Industry Standard, I’ll give you a $20,000 bonus.’ But the Industry Standard has gone, MultiLingual is here, but I’ve never been on the cover of MultiLingual. Why don’t you put people on the cover of MultiLingual?
Donna That’s a good idea.
Renato I’m not going to give you $20,000 to put me on the cover.
Donna Well, we’ve kicked around the idea of changing the cover. What we have done in the past, the reason we have the kinds of covers we have, is that the magazine covers technical things, it covers new things in the industry, new processes, new tools, and we like to show all the ways of communicating. That was the original concept. Let’s find out how in the Stone Age they got across the fact that there was a buffalo across the river. And it is fun to do that. The problem is a lot of the things from the Stone Age were on stones, so everything’s grey. So we keep looking for color to just liven it up. But yes, we could certainly consider putting you on the cover.
Renato I’ll be signing to a buffalo, saying, ‘Be careful.’ No, but it’s interesting. I ask this as a joke, but the reality is that it’s very neutral, and it’s not too much about promotion. It’s not like a swimsuit issue of the localization industry. ‘We’re going to do the people issue of the localization industry, all the gossip of what is going on’, and so on. But what matters there, and I think that we all-, our listeners will all agree that the value is the content and the depth of the articles that are in there. Tell us something funny, something interesting. In all these years did you ever miss a deadline?
Donna You know, I don’t think we ever have. Once upon a time we had to ship our files to be printed; of course, we couldn’t send them over a 28-baud line, and we actually had our editor fly out to the airport with his box in hand and handed it to the UPS man on the plane.
Renato Oh my God. I remember those times. I have stories of delivering a box with paper to a client on the plane. I had an issue once where the plane was ready to leave, and the client had one foot on the jet bridge and one foot on the plane and he wouldn’t get into the plane, waiting for the envelope to arrive. At the time where you could walk up to the gate until the last minute. Since 911 we can’t do that. In terms of, well, one of the things that we in media are obsessed with is circulation, is popularity. How do you track, how do you know what are the most popular articles? Is there a way? Do you track the information like that?
Donna Well, nowadays we can, because of the digital issue, we can look at the traffic on the website for that. Before we just had to occasionally do reader surveys and see. That was always a hoot, because we would get one response that says, ‘Oh, your articles are too technical,’ and the very next response would be, ‘Oh, no, we need more technical articles.’ That has been a problem. We’re a small industry, and so we have to cover a lot of different topics, so there are topics that might appeal to translators, and there are topics that might appeal to programmers, and there are topics that might appeal to business development people, and they’re all in the same magazine. That’s just the nature of the beast.
Renato Do you have a number one most popular article that got the most responses or something like that, that you can remember?
Donna Well, recently we had a great article on Brexit, so it was timely and also well-written, and I think that was one of our more popular ones.
Renato Okay, that’s interesting. In our podcast we see movements, like 50% more interest in pieces that are about forecasts and about trends than features that are conversations or more industry-specific. So that’s why I was curious.
Donna In general, I think that some of the more popular articles are sometimes just about language because, as I mentioned earlier, we’ve got translators, programmers, sales people, but we all are interested in language. So somebody talks about Haitian Creole, just as a language, maybe all of those people will read that because that’s what they care about.
Renato Yes, we’re in the language business. So what makes a good article? When you go out and you ask somebody to write an article, if one our listeners wants to write an article to appear on MultiLingual, what should they keep in mind?
Donna Well, first of all, it would be great if it’s about something that they feel like we have not covered, and we’re very open to new articles. Also, perhaps, a new technique or a new slant on something that’s going on in the industry. We’re very open to something like that. I think I mentioned before, we’re not particularly open to articles that are advertorial.
Renato Yes. ‘Oh, I created this new tool, and it solves peace on Earth.’
Donna Right, and the problem with that is I can totally understand people writing like that, because they do so believe in their tool or whatever, and it’s just down to their core, and they have no idea what they sound like when they write.
Renato Exactly. Well, we did a podcast on tips about sales, and one of the number one tips that we say is if you want to sell translations, don’t talk about translations, talk about things that generate translation. If you want to sell your product, don’t talk about your product, talk about the problems that your product solves.
Donna That’s one of our points to people who come across that way. We say, ‘You know, people will take you a lot more seriously if you show that you know what you’re talking about rather than that you have something to sell.’
Renato Very good. That’s very good advice in general, not only for writing articles, but in marketing in general you don’t talk about yourself. Let other people talk about you. You talk about what you know and what is your expertise. As an advertiser I was a very happy client of MultiLingual, because I saw the results. I mean, like I said, people remembered my picture, everywhere in the world by the way. I remember speaking somewhere in China, in Wuhan I think, and I had never heard of Wuhan. Now it’s one of my favorite cities. There were translators there from universities; there are 270 universities that teach translation in China. And the students came to me and, ‘Oh, I remember you from the picture in MultiLingual.’ It had been two or three years that I had been in that advertisement. The recall was very high. We talked a little bit of circulation, but we got out of that. If you had to estimate your readership, what would you put it at?
Donna It’s not big. It’s probably between 20-25,000; something like that.
Renato Oh, that’s pretty good. You see, we have a limited amount of information sources in our space, and they’re very niche; and I don’t think any other information source has a bigger audience than you do. So it’s small for you, but it’s significant for the advertisers and people who want to get the benefit of the vehicle. Excellent. But also another thing that you do, MultiLingual, is that you organize Localization World, one of the industry events, and how does that work for MultiLingual?
Donna Oh, it’s quite the symbiotic relationship. I think both the conference and the magazine benefit from being associated with each other. We’re able to publicize the conference, and then the conference generates new readers and new writers and new advertisers for the magazine.
Renato So it’s a win-win-win situation.
Donna Yes.

End of conversation

Donna Parrish

Donna Parrish is co-organizer of the LocWorld conferences and publisher of the magazine MultiLingual. Prior to her work at MultiLingual Computing, Inc., she was a computer programmer for 25 years. Donna holds a degree in mathematics from Peabody College of Vanderbilt University.


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