July 30, 2018

Is everyone already using XML-first?

XML is not new, but it’s not that old either. It’s difficult to put a finger on exactly when XML-first workflows became a best practice for publishers, but we like to think it was around 2003 when Bill Kasdorf published The Columbia Guide to Digital Publishing which at the time was, “the only comprehensive reference for producing written or graphic content in digital form” and still holds much relevance today, fifteen years later.

Since the publishing industry has been talking about XML-first for over fifteen years, it’s easy to assume this type of workflow is commonplace and “everybody’s doing it.”

But is this really the case?

Last summer, we surveyed a sample of publishers and asked: “are you using an XML-first workflow?” 71% of respondents gave a positive response.

Are you using an XML-first workflow?

Like all surveys, we can interpret the data in many different ways. Here is some deeper analysis on who exactly is using XML-first, and who isn’t.

Already using XML-first:

The largest group to say yes, they already had XML-first workflows in practice, were scholarly publishers – both journal and book (55%) –  followed by educational or textbook publishers, then trade and University Presses.

Mid-sized publishers (100-500 books or 1,000-5,000 journal articles published annually) had the heaviest adoption.

Reporting much less adoption (around 20%) were both the larger and smaller publishers. This could be a testament to the agility of smaller businesses and slow change process of larger organizations that are common across almost any industry.

Yes, I am already using an XML-first workflow

Looking into it:

Surprisingly the largest group to say they were looking into XML-first were professional publishers (medical, legal, etc.) (38%), followed by scholarly book (28%), educational or textbook (28%), and scholarly journals (24%).

Similarly, smaller publishers are more interested – 44% in this group publish under 100 books or 1,000 journal articles annually.

This group seems overall eager to adopt new systems and technology with 92% saying they are implementing new automations in the next 6-18 months. Even with smaller quantities, the efficiencies of XML-first are worth it.

Just not interested:

This group consisted of mostly smaller publishers with no substantial difference between the type of publisher.

And even though most are not using any automation tools for their workflows for editorial, production, or eproducts, this group still feels pretty good about their automation efforts (63% said they feel good)! It could be a question of budget, quantities of scale, or just the challenge of managing priorities within a smaller organization.

In summary

After conducting this survey, the Apex team was pleased to confirm that XML-first is pretty standard now and more and more publishers are implementing it, among other technologies and automations. This is the path forward to more efficiently producing high-quality publications – print or digital.


We’re curious, are you using XML-first? Take the quick poll.


Here are a few other interesting correlations between XML and non-XML supporters. We’ll leave you to make your own assumptions here.

Download the full survey report here, or contact Apex to learn more.

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