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AdsML Standard -- Opening an Envelope

October 2003
By Marie Alonso

Business Development Consultant

AdsML is a major step forward in the 15-year quest of media to complete the process of business-to-business communication of advertising documents. Essentially an XML "envelope"—the AdsML Framework—this new standard will not replace existing standards targeting electronic relays of print publication advertising transactions. What it will do, however, is help these existing standards communicate more effectively, resulting in a new potential for today's publishing community.

Today, advertising data can be re-keyed as often as 15 times per ad, according to a recent European study. Not only is this massively inefficient, but each time the data is re-entered, the opportunities for errors increase.

This is the reality of life in the publishing community. Insertion orders must be tracked, invoices must be cataloged—a surging river of paperwork must be tamed, or at least monitored, to ensure that publication advertising is an orderly, controlled process.

This is the way the advertising process in the publication world worked yesterday, continues to function today and will steadfastly exist tomorrow.

Or maybe not. . .

In August, the AdsML Standard—in development since the beginning of the year—was released for beta review. Based on the widely used eXtensible Markup Language (XML), AdsML 1.0 is an international, open standard that aims to streamline and automate the placement, transmittal, publishing and invoicing of advertisements. The process is now cumbersome, error-prone and unsuited to the rapid, fluctuating needs of a multimedia advertising environment.

AdsML is designed to surmount present difficulties. For example, AdsML 1.0 cuts data entry to one time only. The benefits to the industry will be significant: accelerated processing will shorten the time from insertion to publication, transactions will be more error-free and business opportunities will grow as ads are re-purposed across different advertising platforms.

What AdsML means for the business of advertising is that ads will more likely run when they should, where they should and exactly as they should, each and every time. Revenue now lost through breakdowns in processes that are complex, disconnected and subject to complications and inefficiencies, will be recaptured to instead raise profits.

The specification will provide standardized electronic processes for all sectors of the advertising industry. Its use will shorten deadlines and time to market, reduce errors, improve communication, save time and money, and enhance business relationships. The effect on media environments will be profound.

Under AdsML, inventory, insertion and billing processes will be streamlined, and business operations will become more efficient and accurate. The XML-based standard will not—yes, not—replace existing standards (such as SpaceXML and AdConnexion; see sidebars), but will build upon them and extend their reach, encourage convergence when they overlap and plug gaps between their specifications.

Technically, AdsML is an envelope that essentially relies on existing standards to describe both the content and the metadata carried within advertising transactions.

Where does AdsML originate? The new standard is being developed by the AdsML Consortium, an international group of organizations and companies that serve the printing, electronic and digital publishing industries. Among the consortium's supporters are Ifra, an international association for media publishing; and the Newspaper Association of America (NAA). A growing list of industry members include Agfa, Associated Newspapers, CCI Europe, Datox, Engage, IPA Systems, Iware, Media24, ppi Media, Quickcut, RivCom Ltd., Rosetta and Vio Worldwide.

Tony Stewart, director of consulting at RivCom in London and chair of the technical working group that is designing the standard, states: "It's the combination of the three components that make up the AdsML framework—business process definitions, guidelines and recommendations—that will provide the compelling value to the industry. Together, they will give us a framework within which industry members can agree on the types of information that should be exchanged in digital form and the XML standard best suited for each type. We'll then be able to put those agreements into practice," he explains. Until now, it hasn't even been possible to have this conversation on a global scale, much less implement the results, adds Stewart.

AdsML is a vendor-neutral, business-process neutral, inter-operable standard that will work on all platforms, across a wide range of operating systems, in any environment. AdsML version 1.0 defines a framework consisting of components that, for now, emphasize AdsML business processes and the AdsML envelope. The beta review phase is the final stage of development before AdsML 1.0 is released. The AdsML 1.0 specification and associated documentation are being circulated among industry and XML experts for evaluation and review in preparation for the public release of the proposed specification in October at Ifra-Expo 2003 in Leipzig, Germany.

Jack Knadjian, Agfa Corp. strategic business development manager, newspapers, is an avid participant in the AdsML momentum. "AdsML is an effort to create a global standard for end-to-end advertising workflow. It will not replace existing standards, but will build on them and extend their reach, encourage convergence when they overlap and plug gaps between their specifications." Knadjian says that if this were to succeed, then companies like Agfa could provide their solutions much more cost-effectively and on a global basis. This, in turn, would encourage suppliers to spend more on R&D, which would ultimately benefit the whole advertising community.

While Knadjian notes that there have been attempts to create standards at specific stages of the advertising lifecycle—AdConnexion and SpaceXML, as examples—these have been adopted to varying degrees and only at regional levels.

David Jones, general manager at Vio Worldwide, is also active in AdsML initiatives. As a corporate member of the AdsML Consortium, he is an authority on the ideals behind AdsML. "Today, the publishing industry has SpaceXML from IDEAlliance, and AdConnexion, the Scandinavian initiative. Both deal with the codification of advertisement bookings, the basic idea that information must be moved around digitally between publication and media buying," he explains.

"With AdsML, we start to bridge the gap between SpaceXML and AdConnexion, and eventually make advertising data digestible by JDF (Job Definition Format)." Jones asserts that AdsML is, indeed, an exceptional bridging language, allowing publication environments to leverage the electronic information—sharing goals of standards such as SpaceXML, AdConnexion and JDF twist. This results in a robust and streamlined electronic buying and selling process for today's publication advertising tasks.

"AdsML is the wrapping mechanism for bringing together multiple standards in an end-to-end advertising business process so that every component of the advertising process, from rate card requests to insertion orders to invoices, can be conveyed electronically with ease," Jones concludes.

While the focus of AdsML is largely print advertising, it is not AdsML's only focus. In fact, AdsML is designed for all kinds of advertising—radio, television, posters, etc., making it an ideal wrapper that can be used to automate the movement of an advertisement from print to Web, or from radio to the Web.

Interested parties can get more information about the AdsML Consortium and AdsML 1.0 via the Internet at

About the Author

Marie Alonso is president and editorial director of, a leading independent online news source for the commercial printing industry. PrintWriter is a free information site for today's printing professionals, featuring daily print industry news updates and special columns targeting the commercial printing industry. She can be reached by calling (856) 216-9956 or by e-mailing

The AdConnexion Connection

The Swedish AdConnexion will be applied between media agencies, newspaper ad space selling companies and newspapers. AdCenter—a file transfer service provider—will be the service provider of the advertising order transmission service, transmitting ad space reservations, ad orders and changes in ad orders between the parties. The project is being driven by the Swedish Newspaper Association, Edifra.

Edifra recommends the principle one ad order-one artwork. If an ad is to be published three times, there are three separate ad orders. In AdConnexion, this can be done with one ad order that has three publishing dates for one piece of artwork. In case of one order-multiple artwork, a communication problem may arise when, for example, a package of seven publication dates is ordered and the newspaper can only publish six of them.

How should this be communicated to the customer? When using the concept of one ad order-one artwork, the customer would receive an answer to each of the six ad orders.

At the moment, AdConnexion can transmit ad order messages with four statuses. The message status of Ad-Insertion is defined in the element Transaction. The sub-elements of Transaction are Tender, Preliminary, Confirmed and Update. All data flows from the buyer side to the newspapers. The only data that the newspapers provide are their ad order numbers and, by giving this number, the newspaper confirms the ad order. In AdConnexion, it will be possible in the future to add other types of content.

Targeting SpaceXML Specifications for Publisher & Agency Communications Exchange XML (SPACE/XML) was created as electronic business transactions for space reservations, insertion orders, creative materials, job tickets, invoices and downloads.

The standard was developed by IDEAlliance, working in tandem with the Newspaper Association of America (NAA) and the Digital Distribution of Advertising for Publications (DDAP).

SpaceXML is designed to aid the publishing industry by delivering a reduction in information errors that cause billing discrepancies.

Additionally, the goal of creating the specifications for ad insertion orders is to eliminate much of the confusion and misinformation that can result when insertion orders are sent by fax or mail. By establishing this set of standards, any publication or agency could receive electronic business information from any collaborative partner. Visit

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