Content Is King
Bijoy Kumar
Editor, Business Standard Motoring
29 Feb 2004

We take our readers for a spin in the car we are talking about. We undergo a learning process ourselves along with our reader and in the process end up telling them a good story about a car.

He is passionate about cars and that is clearly reflected in the magazine he edits. He is none other than Y Bijoy Kumar, editor of BS Motoring, the automobile publication from the Business Standard stable. Kumar who has been editing Business Standard Motoring since its inception in 1985.

A qualified lawyer, Kumar’s fascination for automobiles drew him to automotive journalism. Armed with a post-graduate degree in communication and journalism he came to Mumbai where he worked briefly for Indian Auto and Car and Bike International before joining Business Standard. He started a full-page supplement on cars in Business Standard; first such initiative in India. The supplement drew overwhelming response.

Kumar has participated in many national and international motor sport events including the London-Capetown 1998, the longest motor sport event ever organized (19,000 km, 41 days, 24 countries), and organized 'One lap of India, 29 states in 29 days', a safety run that set a national record in 2003. He is also instrumental in bringing the concept of ‘Car of the Year’ award to India in 1996. Anusha S caught up with Kumar to know more about the magazine, plans for the magazine and his views on the auto industry in India.

Q. On how did the concept of BS Motoring evolve?
I came with the idea of a one-page motoring supplement to Business Standard (BS) in 1995 and the editorial heads at BS liked it. It was too early for its time then and did not make sense for the organization to hire a person only to cover cars in a features manner. Also there were not too many cars then in India. We therefore decided on one page for the Weekend Supplement on Saturday. I never expected that it would finally end up as a magazine. But, what happened was when you had a person to cover cars and write a weekend page, people doubted the amount of work one had. Also there were only 13 cars and the question came up what will you do in the 14th week? We were clear about what we would do. There were several car-related stories that we could churn out. We still do and the weekend page on motoring has become very popular over time. Then we came out with an annual called ‘Indian Automobile’ annual. This annual was India’s first ever ‘Car Buyers Guide’ and it was well accepted and also made money for BS. Till 1997 we continued. That year we decided to start a quarterly magazine. We came out with three quarterly issues successfully and the fourth issue onwards it became a monthly. Again it was well accepted. So that’s how the monthly magazine evolved.

Q. Tell us how the magazine evolved?
When we began, the market for such a magazine had not evolved. We were dealing with very advanced stuff in terms of gathering information. If we had come up with such advanced stuff we would not have had any readership for our magazine. Therefore, toning down of content was required. We could not come out with outlandish test drives and talk about turning force and horsepower to people. We had to explain what turning force means, what output means, how does it feel when you sit in a car, what are the parameters you need to keep in mind while driving a car, how does it go around the corner, how does it go straight and how does it stop and the like, in layman’s term.

Price is a key factor in selling cars in India. People are extremely price sensitive and they are not educated enough to understand how safe a car is and how safe it can get. To bring the audience to understand and appreciate more in a car is the refinement process. When you spend Rs 5 lakh, are you getting the value for that money? When you buy a certain brand what does it tell you about the owner of the brand, its pedigree and so on and so forth? We have to tell our readers all of this in a nice manner. So BS Motoring is synonymous with story telling. We do not claim to them that we are an authority on cars and go by what we say. And merely just provide content. We take our readers for a spin in the car we are talking about. We undergo a learning process ourselves along with our reader and in the process end up telling them a good story about a car. This is our approach towards content.

Q. What are the changes that came about in the content based on reader feedback?
The magazine is five years old and the weekend page still continues. Three years ago we started something called Which Car? in the weekend page. It is a section where car-owing readers wanting to upgrade to the next car or those who are first-time buyers send us their queries and we answer these queries. We understood our readers through this section and knew what exactly they want.

It was a good reader feedback. Today, we get about 30-40 mails a day. Based on these queries we know exactly what kind of people are reading BS Motoring and what are they looking for. We realized that people want answers and not technical details. Our content is based on this feedback.

From being fun-oriented test drives we made it decision-oriented test drives. Thanks to the feedback we got from our readers through the Which Car? section. While, it is decision-oriented, every verdict of our test drive also follows the ‘FTD Quotient’ (Fun to Drive quotient). A car can be efficient, reliable and safe but is it fun to drive? Our philosophy is, if a car is fun to drive it is also fun to read. As far as we are concerned we have to generate interesting content which is good reading for the people. How do you come up with exciting content? By driving exciting cars and presenting it in a much more exciting manner; that’s the way content has undergone a metamorphosis. As far as feedback goes, we get a lot of feedback for our Driving section; we have a very strong two-wheeler section which covers 20 pages on motorcycling. Then comes the travel section.

Q. What is the circulation?
We have about 35,000 copies on the newsstands every month and about 40,000 to 45,000 copies go along with Business Standard. It’s not big but it makes business sense for a niche magazine such as ours. Copies that go with Business Standard are the subscriber copies. www.bsmotoring.com is India’s first automotive website. There is a lot of content on the website. It’s more or less the same content and at times we redefine it to suit the format. But, the site contains a lot more pictures than in the magazine.

Q. Being part of Business Standard would have helped.
Thanks to Business Standard, the magazine still exists. We share the same infrastructure and even the page makers and designers. There was not much investment made into this magazine but today after five years, it has emerged as a separate entity. Also, Business Standard has helped us get focused audience. It is easier to communicate to a focused audience than mass audiences. As for the mass audience, you do not know what they want to read and we would be generating content at random. But, now we know our reader from the back of our hand. The Motoring page in weekend is doing well. It is one of the best pages in any newspaper today. We cover everything. There is a Pit Stop, a main story, one destination, one trouble shooting column and two on car questions.

So that’s exactly what we want? We talk about a car, we give them more information on the car, and we tell them where they can go with their car and finally also give suggestions on which car to buy. Because, of this we have been getting huge responses than most of the other main sections of the newspaper. Response is not because of anything but due to the fact that it is a very passionate subject. People like to talk about cars.

Q. What is competition like?
There is Autocar, which I consider is quality competition. It is a foreign title but it has got its advantages and disadvantages. Then there is Overdrive, we do not compete with them as the quality of writing is completely different. Then there is our magazine and there are magazines such as Auto India which has passed its prime. There is also a new magazine called ‘The Auto Magazine’ edited by Murad Ali Baig and then ‘Bike 2 Car’.

Q. How do you maintain a balance between content and advertising?
That’s the advantage of being a part of Business Standard. We have been able to maintain the integrity of the two. We are never asked to do anything. Though, BS for example has a big deal with Maruti for Gateway magazine we have never been asked to write a single positive thing about Maruti. But, that does not mean we write only negative stuff. Where it merits good writing, we do give due credit. I agree we need advertising but that has not stopped us from being critical in our articles. Even advertisers have realized that we are not being critical or negative just for the sake of being. We have always asked pointed questions to manufacturers through our articles. Safety is one thing that we strive for as motoring journalists. If a particular car is not safe to drive we do mention that in our article and specify why it is not safe. Legislation is necessary to come into place and it should say that it is important that certain standard norms are borne in mind while manufacturing a car for the Indian market and manufacturers need to stick to it. Take, for example, the new Honda City that was launched in India recently. This car is extremely safe and has earned five star rating in Europe and in Japan also it has won accolades. But, in India, the car does not come with air bags. So the five star rating that it has won in international markets stands no relevance whatsoever. In India it’s the cost issue. Manufacturers build car as per the price.

Q. What is the USP of BS Motoring and its content strategy?
Good writing and good journalism. My entire team is passionate about motoring and all of them write well. We did not go looking for people to hire them; they all just came to motoring. And, today they all are doing exactly what they want to do and therefore they are doing a good job. We have professionals from advertising, IT and such varied fields. They are all passionate about cars and bikes and want to write about these. According to me no other auto magazine can compete with us. We might not be the first to break the news but when it comes to processing information and presenting it to the reader we are the best.

Q. Your key achievements?
One major achievement I would say is that we have been able to get other motoring journalists together and work for the cause of safety. We did an event called ‘One Lap of India’ for safety. We traveled 29 states in 29 days and every other motoring magazine in the country participated in this event. We promoted automotive safety around the country through this event. That’s been our biggest achievement.

We are also one of the firsts to start the ‘Car of the Year’ (COTY) awards in 196 onwards even before the magazine started. It is in its seventh year now and over the years all the other magazines have also started the same thing. We are also first in coming up with the magazine website. Lots of firsts for us. Also we have been around for a long time now. We came in with one page when there were only 13 cars in the country. Today there are 80 cars.

Q. What does it take to be a brand?
Specialized magazine should become a cult. People should know exactly what’s happening in their lives and around them. This is something which should happen even without making an effort. When you start a magazine you should have character, the character should build a cult. When somebody goes to a newsstand he should pick up only BS Motoring because he wants to have fun and at the same time seek information both of which we provide. Right from the content page we take care how we write it. Every word in the magazine is written with great care.

Q. What are the future plans for BS Motoring?
We are thinking of coming out with an Asia-specific edition which is extremely doable. Most of the cars that we have in India are Asia-specific cars. We are very quick in processing information internationally as well. As far as content goes we should be thinking bigger. We could come out with a Bangkok edition, a Malaysia edition and the like. I do not want to limit us to India. A market like China which is a 4.5-million car market has a motoring magazine but it’s not good. India has not touched a million yet. So there are a lot of opportunities for a magazine such as ours to go Asia-specific.

Q. Your views on the automobile industry?
The automobile industry saw a 26 per cent growth last year. In 2003 the Indian car market was 0.8 million cars and by the end of 2004 it will be a 1.5 million market and by the end of 2010 it will be a 2 million market. The market in India is growing in terms of all segments. There is a huge replacement market which is also growing and being addressed by most car makers now and we also see new brands coming in. As far as motoring journalists go we are excited about the fact that we are getting a nice spectrum of cars to write about.

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