By Noel Ward, Executive Editor November 3 , 2003 -- Since the inception of digital color printing, vendors, pundits, journalists, consultants, wireheads, and assorted hangers-on have told all who would listen how wonderful variable data printing was and would be. It quickly attained the status of Nirvana, an advanced state of grace, a higher plane of existence. VDP was going to be the salvation of the printing industry, the unique selling proposition of digital printing, and it would change how all our printed documents were created, distributed, looked, and used. VDP was going to be the ultimate expression of print, and like the heroes of other myths and legends, it was going to change the world. Then reality set in. Early adopters, like impassioned missionaries and other zealots, braved unstable platforms, weak-kneed software, inscrutable databases, and ill-defined applications in valiant attempts to convert customers to the Variable Way. Some succeeded, while others are not with us any more. It became quickly apparent that there were no easy ways to make variable data work as promised. Even service bureaus and data centers, places where data was the coin of the realm, found the challenges of variable data for purposes more complex than bills and statements too much to bear. And customers weren't interested anyway: they simply didn't want to hear the message of VDP and the new world it represented. Now the old myths and legends are beginning to fade. The platforms are more stable, the software more sophisticated and easier to use. The applications are clearer and far better defined. VDP, as it's prophets predicted, is becoming a reality. I already hear a lot of stories about real world successes--and have even written some of the case studies and white papers on them--but next week in Scottsdale I expect to get into a lot more detail about just what is happening and what it really takes to implement effective VDP solutions. As my colleague Steve Schnoll notes in his column this week, the GATF Variable Data Printing conference focuses on "The Anatomy of the Personalization Process." It plans to emphasize the before, during and after of several real world examples with plenty of opportunity to look under the hoods of the solutions and ask the hard questions about the challenges of implementation. One thing I know will emerge is with respect to costs, and with digital color printing in particular. This is not an idle issue. The majority of print providers, reacting to customer and competitive pricing pressures, remain focused on the fact that digital color printing usually costs several times more than black and white and claim this as the reason why color and VDP aren't being adopted more quickly. But as some of the examples we'll see in Scottsdale will demonstrate, this is really an excuse for not selling the work correctly or are selling it to the wrong customers. There is a growing body of proof that it's entirely reasonable to create full-color VDP solutions that are less expensive overall, are more attractive and effective, have superior response rates, and work better as customer communications vehicles. The myths and legends of VDP are fading. And while it is still not as simple as we'd all like it to be, variable data printing is no longer a dream, an aberration or a temporary curiosity. I'll be telling you more about what I find out next week and following up on it in the weeks and months ahead. Variable data printing is not some arcane marketing strategy merely intended to sell more print engines (although it does that quite well). It is the next step in the odyssey of print, myths, legends and all.