By Amy Schellenbaum
March 05, 2015
Thomas Hawk

Scant days after beloved airplane catalog SkyMall sent the world into a collective freak-out over its bankruptcy filing, an entrepreneur by the name of Scott Jordan announced his hopes to buy the magazine. Jordan, a former Shark Tank contestant and founder of a successful company that makes vests with a bunch of pockets, has since gone full-speed ahead with his plans to buy and overhaul the business, even going so far as to create mockups of page layouts and unofficial partnerships with Brookstone.

He sees he wants the first rebooted issue in seat-backs on June 1.

Of course, he doesn't own SkyMall.

In fact, it looks like he probably won't even be the first "stalking horse" bidder when the whole process begins later this month. The problem? None of the airlines are biting, and it's too risky to go in headfirst without, well, planes full of desperately bored people with a demonstrated surplus of discretionary income.

"They're just selling the name SkyMall," Jordan says. "As things stand now there are no valid contracts. Everything needs to be completely renegotiated around this new business model." 

But what, exactly, is that new business model? Let's break it down, question by question:

Q: How will SkyMall 2.0 as you imagine it be different from the SkyMall we all know and love?

A: You will now know and love it, but you will actually buy stuff from it. I'm a huge fan of the brand, but I think it failed over the years. They're not speaking to their audience. It's very rare that an advertiser knows so much about their consumer. With SkyMall we know people are traveling. That's immense. But reading the magazine, there is nothing about those items that relates to what we know. So we're going to redo the entire magazine editorially and change the product mix?

Q: What would the catalog sell, then?

A: We're going to sell things that have to do with the various aspects of planning a trip. There's going to be a page about where to go, where you can book actual vacations. Maybe the next couple of pages will be about the best luggage, then the cleverest gadgets for your car and other transportation. We’ll suggest iPhone and Android apps we think are helpful when you’re on your trip. Maybe even good books to download or movies right before you take of.

Now, in addition, we’re going to go one step further—go where SkyMall lost. We’re going to encourage people with incentives to make that purchase right then, either on the plane using a special app we’re developing now, which doesn’t have to use WiFi, or within 24 hours of a flight.

Q: So almost like a Duty-Free scenario?

We’ll be bringing back that feeling of a duty-free store, but [the savings] will actually mean something. You’ll save a minimum of 20 percent off a cruise. If that’s a $2,000 trip, then SkyMall just saved you $400. But only if you do it within 24 hours after your flight, which you can prove by using the geo-tagging in our app or by entering your boarding pass information.

Q: What are the major legal hurdles you have to clear first?

A: What we know is this: without the airlines we have nothing. We have nothing. The airlines make this happen. As things stand now there are no valid contracts, no existing contracts. Everything needs to be completely renegotiated around this new business model. That's my biggest concern in this bankruptcy. A magazine like this that's not in the back of an airline pocket is basically meaningless.

That’s our biggest struggle in this process so far. In the timeline [SkyMall] has outlined, I’m not sure we’re going to get an agreement in place with one or more of the airlines. But we’re working very hard.

The reason they gave publicly for going bankrupt is that there are too many digital distractions--the Kindles and iPads and iPhones and all those things. That could not be further from the truth. People crave an opportunity to pick up a magazine that's clever and speaks to what's on their mind right then and there. They crave that physical interaction and they miss it. I'm sick of looking at my iPad and my iPhone. I want to flip through the pages.

Q: What happens if those hurdles aren’t cleared?

A: People are writing, because I'm the only vocal one in this process, that I bought SkyMall. I did not buy SkyMall. I'd like to, but it's also got a lot of baggage—pun intended.

They've got 60 employees pared back from 127. They've got distribution centers, they have websites, they have all these things they don't need.

They're just selling the name SkyMall. To be perfectly blunt, I may start my own version if I am the losing bidder. There's no reason why not, if the contracts have to be negotiated anyway.

Q: What significance does SkyMall have to you as an entrepreneur?

A: As an entrepreneur, as a businessman, as an advertiser I love the brand. I have a lot of memories attached to it. It shouldn’t die. It should live. It should be better.

By the way, it will have one little section with some of the funky, old-SkyMall throwback kind of items. You know, goofy stuff. It’s just not the entire thing. There’s going to be a lingerie section, and a page in the back that just says: “did you forget any of these items? We can have them delivered to your hotel this afternoon or tomorrow.” It’s just clever.

So what does SkyMall mean to me? I just can’t remember traveling and not picking it up. I always did. It was out of boredom, curiosity, and desperation. Over the years, though I’ve just gotten more and more disappointed with the selection of items and how it’s all put together. To me it represents a massive opportunity.

Q: What’s the deal with the partnership you have with Jim Louderback, the former editor in chief of PC Magazine?

A: Jim’s a long-time friend of mine. He’s got a lot of content experience and is between things right now writing a book. He said he wanted to be a part of this so we are, in effect, partners on this. It’s my company but he’s going to have a very critical role in content management.

By the way, he’s the only major contributor I’m sharing publicly. I’m getting tons of people begging to be involved.

Q: There’s an editorial component?

A: In every issue there will be a note from Scott as your pilot. That’s another thing: we’re going to talk in travel terms. We’re going to make puns, we’re going to have fun and have double-entendres. It’s going to be really clever. You’re going to want to read it. You’re going to want to find out about it.

It’s basically going to be advertisements in my voice, with the benefit of Jim’s expertise. You’re going to feel like you’re sitting next to me while I’m telling you about, say, my favorite noise-cancelling headphones.

Q: Why do you think everybody wigged out when SkyMall announced its bankruptcy?

A: The news media went nuts. It was like “Peace negotiations failed in the Middle East and SkyMall is going bankrupt.” They led the news with it. And they led off with the fact that SkyMall is going away. That’s when I got so up-in-arms and said why? It shouldn’t. And a lot of people thought the same way.

Instead of reporting it as SkyMall going through financial difficulties, and that they had to go through the bankruptcy proceedings, the way it was announced was “let’s say goodbye to SkyMall.”

As it stands it’s not totally going away, but I tell you what: it will if it does not get the agreements from the airlines.

Q: What else?

A: There will be opportunities to buy SkyMall items on the plane and then pick up some items at the actual airport through, say, the Brookstone stores. Ideally, ultimately, there will be plans for brick-and-mortar stores in airports. If all these other stores are popping up in airports, why hasn't SkyMall?

And then we're going to make it fun. If your flight's delayed, come to SkyMall. Have cookies on us. We're going to try to win those customers back instead of being this stale, old brand that stood for nothing other than reminiscing about what it was when you first looked at it.

Amy Schellenbaum is the Digital Editor of Travel + Leisure. Follow her on Twitter at @acsbaum.