Shiny Objects redirects personal views on money

By Connor Yearsley


Dr. James Roberts’ book, which analyzes the ways people relate to their pocketbooks, now has 20,000 copies in print.

Roberts, professor of marketing at Baylor, has been observing consumer behavior for years.

“It’s who I am,” he said. “I’m a social scientist.”

His book, called “Shiny Objects: Why We Spend Money We Don’t Have in Search of Happiness We Can’t Buy,” is a product of over a decade of his own research and observations as well as the research of other experts in the area.

“It’s all about money and possessions and happiness,” he said.

“Why don’t money and possessions bring us happiness and what can we do to strike a happy balance between our thoughts and feelings about money and possessions and the rest of our lives?”

“Shiny Objects” was first published in November 2011, but Roberts has been doing a lot of publicity for it recently with the holiday season approaching.

He appeared on CBS’ The Early Show to promote the book and said it was great to have the opportunity to discuss it in a larger forum.

Roberts said the show attracted 1 million viewers and that there was a temporary spike in sales following the interview.

He said he did 150 back-to-back interviews in two weeks for newspapers, magazines, websites and radio shows, most of which were live and over-the-phone. He said that experience helped prepare him for The Early Show.

Roberts recently completed a course for the Baylor Alumni Association and their Lifelong Learning program, in which he gave one lecture over his book every Monday for four weeks. The Lifelong Learning program is offered to any interested persons for a membership fee.

Roberts has been around the country speaking about his book.

One of the more memorable speeches he gave at the University of St. Thomas, his alma mater. He was the keynote speaker for their 19th annual stakeholder dialogue where the title of his speech was “The Ethics of Over-Consumption: What Would Jesus Drive?”

He said it was the most well-attended dialogue they had ever had and a five-page excerpt from his book was published in their alumni magazine.

Roberts is excited that the book is being translated into Chinese and will be available in 2013, with 10,000 copies being printed. Obviously, this will give him access to a huge market.

He said he thinks the Chinese will be more receptive to the message of the book since they are still making the transition from a communist system to a free market system and are still struggling with the idea of materialism.

“I really do think there are more people willing to listen to this message in China than there are here,” Roberts said.

Roberts has done about ten book signings and he said he enjoys those the most because he gets to meet people who have actually taken the time to read his book. He did one signing at the Barnes and Noble in Waco and sold more books than any previous book signing at that location.

Roberts has considered using the book as a teaching tool but he feels a conflict of interest in making students buy his book. He said he hopes the message of the book will motivate them to buy it on their own.

Roberts thinks the book is universal because everyone struggles with money.

Roberts said he thinks feeling good about yourself, having healthy relationships and getting involved in the community are among the most important things in life, and that focusing on money can get in the way of all of those.

“If you’re investing all of your effort on money instead of people, you’re not doing what God asks,” he said.

Roberts referenced Matthew 6:24, which states “You cannot serve God and mammon,” and I Timothy 6:10, which states “For the love of money is the root of all evil.”

As a marketing professor, Roberts realizes that businesses thrive on materialism, but he feels a responsibility to let the consuming public know about the tradeoffs and let them make up their own minds. He said his colleagues have been very supportive.

“I devote an entire chapter to the techniques marketers use to get consumers to spend more,” he said. “The chapter’s title is ‘Weapons of Mass Consumption.’”

The book took three to four years to complete and evolved from other ideas.

“I’ve been writing in the area of materialism, impulsive spending and credit card abuse for about 15 years,” he said.

He said he’s happy with how successful “Shiny Objects” has been.

“It did great,” he said. “Sales were pretty healthy and it got a lot of media attention. It got reviewed in the Wall Street Journal.”

He said he’s also happy with the feedback he’s received. Several people have told him they appreciated the book and like its message.

“It turned out about as good as I could’ve hoped for,” he said. “Harper Collins was very good.”

He admitted that it did present its challenges though.

“It was a lot of work,” he said. “It was something I felt needed to be written.”

He also said it was stressful fighting to keep his own vision in it and he hoped it could’ve been more Christian.

Roberts said he’s glad he didn’t have to start from square one. He used about 100 journal articles and conference papers he’d written over the years as a starting point.

He said the book includes funny stories, compelling statistics and good illustrations.

“Readers have enjoyed using the scales to measure how materialistic they are,” he said.

Roberts also said he underestimated how deeply ingrained materialism is in our society, which is why his expectations for the book’s success were too high.

Roberts said he’s considering extrapolating on the ideas in the book to write a new book about the church’s role in teaching us about money and possessions.

“Shiny Objects: Why We Spend Money We Don’t Have in Search of Happiness We Can’t Buy” is available to purchase on or from Barnes and Noble.