The stark plight of print media advertising was underscored this past week with the report that in the first half of 2012, Google`s advertising revenue alone ($20.8 billon) eclipsed the total combined newspaper and magazine advertising revenues in the U.S. ($19.2 billion). More ominous for print however, was the trend showing a steady decline in advertising revenues since 2006, while Google`s ad revenues increased each year.
Newspapers and magazines may be down, but they`re not out, and they recognize the need to make the process of advertising in print publications as seamless and efficient as possible. To meet the competition from online media, publishers in 2003 from the U.S., Europe, and Asia began work on an XML industry vocabulary called AdsML to cover the entire advertising workflow, and be applicable to all media products, including online.RIXML is written and managed by a consortium of financial services companies that started in 2000, and its specifications are now in version 2.3.1. The RIXML organization includes financial industry firms involved with the creation, promotion, analysis and sale of securities -- called the sell-side -- and investing organizations such as mutual funds, pension funds, and insurance companies that buy securities in large lots for money management, known as the buy-side. The RIXML group also has software and network vendors serving the industry.
AdsML, whose first release appeared in 2005, evolved from three proposed industry specifications designed to speed and smooth the sometimes chaotic process of purchasing advertising space and delivering the materials -- e.g., the electronic images for printing the ads -- to the publication. (Disclosure: I worked on one of those predecessors, SpaceXML, in the 1990s.). The AdsML documents now cover the entire e-business cycle from campaign concept to billing, as well as the electronic delivery of advertising materials to the publisher.
While AdsML claims to be applicable across all advertising media, including broadcast and outdoor advertising, its print media pedigree is quite evident. The specification defines its core structures as newspaper and magazine advertising, print media inserts -- e.g. Sunday advertising supplements and special bound-in magazine pages -- and digital publishing environments such as those supported by print media. AdsML also defines, as one its objectives, the processing and syndicating of classified advertising, a large and critical revenue source for newspapers and magazines, both in print and online.
Opening moves, then transactions
The overall AdsML workflow begins with the opening moves by the advertiser and the publisher. The advertiser or its ad agency unveils what AdsML calls a campaign brief that outlines the advertiser`s marketing needs, while the publisher posts its advertising prices, called a rate card, and technical specifications. Posted advertising prices, as in many industrial pricing schemes, are often subject to later negotiations.
From this point on in the process, the AdsML workflow becomes more transactional, with information flowing between the parties. AdsML specifies a planning process that covers price quotations and advertising reservations -- a step preceding the final sale -- as well as technical production planning. When the sale of advertising space is final, AdsML provides a booking process covering new orders, as well as changes and cancellations similar to purchase orders in other industries.
AdsML specifies a workflow for physical development of the advertising materials, covering content production, transmission of those materials to the publisher, and materials management transactions. The critical publishing process then follows, which covers placement and publication of the ads, and proof of their publication, often required before authorizing payment. The AdsML publishing process includes as well the rotation of individual messages among editions or issues when requested by the advertiser, and performance monitoring, such as accuracy of placement -- e.g., if the advertiser bought the inside front cover of a magazine, did the ad appear there? -- and quality of production.
In addition, the workflow specified by AdsML covers the payment process, including invoices, statements, and payment notifications. The delivery of money from one bank account to another is, of course, done through financial transactions outside AdsML.
While the key players in the development and execution of an advertising campaign are the advertiser, ad agency, and publisher, many other actors, often with other companies, are also involved, which AdsML specifies in its processes. These actors include creative teams of artists and writers, media buyers (representing the ad agencies), advertising sales representatives (representing the publishers), digital media production specialists, and printing plants. As a result, transactions are often complex and need constant end-to-end coordination, a task that AdsML says is made more manageable by its specifications.
While the AdsML framework is comprehensive, the specification is modular, which makes it possible for trading partners to implement only the parts they intend to use. The specification also offers an envelope module for packaging and routing AdsML messages. The latest specification is version 3.5, release 3, published in May 2011.
AdsML is an international specification, sponsored by the Newspaper Association of America, World Association of Newspapers and News Publishers (WAN-IFRA), and PubliGroupe, a Swiss media sales company. Its membership includes media companies, advertising sales representatives, and software developers serving the industry.
Alan Kotok is editor and publisher of the Science Business news blog, and author, with David Webber, of ebXML: The New Global Standard for Doing Business on TheInternet(New Riders, 2001).