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You are watching: What is the difference between abridged and unabridged audiobooks


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Let’s start with defining the difference between unabridged and also abridged audiobooks. Simply put, one abridged audiobook is a shortened variation of the complete text. If excellent right, the themes, tones, and mood must all heat up with the initial text. Vice versa, unabridged audiobooks consists the complete literary text, kept undamaged as initially published.

Abridged audiobooks can be shortened between 35% and also 75%. Typically, one editor will go v the text, removing elements, references, and also scenes that seem superfluous or redundant. In fiction, this is typically backstory, long descriptions, or world-building elements that don’t include to the key narrative. In nonfiction, editors often nix references and technical details. Notification is often noted if the writer approves of an abridgment.


“The original audiobooks taped in the ’30s were actually abridged—excerpts native the Bible, Helen Keller, etc.,” stated Michele Cobb, the head of the Audio Publishers Association. Over the decades, abridged versions have had several advantages. In a pre–podcast marathon era, part producers thought that civilization had minimal patience come sit v double-digit hours of audio. And of course it’s cheaper to produce abridged audiobooks contrasted to your full-length counterparts.

In one entertainingly unfiltered interview because that the Audiobook background blog, Henry Trentman, who established Recorded publications Inc in 1978, says: “The major publishers were concerned about time due to the fact that they had to market these things and also to offer two tapes because that 14 bucks was a lot simpler than marketing 14 tapes for $100. The wasn’t a publication store item.” Audiobook pioneer Caedmon, i m sorry was founded in 1952 and also saw success v a Dylan thomas recording even before it to be published, saw the advertisement viability of its condensed audiobooks as a virtue.


There’s speculation the abridged audiobooks have additionally enhanced the celebrity very nice of books. Stars through busy schedules are much more likely to commit to shorter recording engagements, and also it’s quicker for the well known to blurb and also endorse publications if they’re taking care of the abridged versions.

Snootiness end Abridged Audiobooks

There’s a (sigh) ongoing debate over the legitimacy that audiobooks together “real books,” together if only world with functioning vision are real readers. Yet listening to publications does flex slightly different mental muscles than visual reading. Plus, it’s simpler to re-publishing the experience of listening come a book, in genuine time. And, as acquainted to anyone who’s ever stretched out a boring domestic chore simply to hear to the finish of a chapter, audiobooks assist multitasking.


The continuing snobbishness over print books has been especially fierce whereby abridged audiobooks room concerned. As Recorded publications founder Trentman has actually opined: “An abridged version—unless it’s a horrible book—is never as good as the original…really, you’re acquisition all the meat and just ending up through the skeleton when you’re act abridged.”

Others have actually shared the sentiment. The talking Book selection Committee for the Talking publication Library, the British service for soldiers that had become visually impaired during battle, refuse in the 1930s to encompass abridged books. Thus it exclude, the BBC’s publication at Bedtime, a still-running radio series that serializes books, regularly read by influential actors.

The concern over literature credibility expanded to establishments supporting remote people. Matthew Rubery’s The Untold Story the the talking Book, a must-read for audiobook background nerds (who for sure number in the billions), recounts:

“The American structure for the Blind and the Royal nationwide Institute the Blind people both banned abridgments come ensure the their constituencies got the same credit together everyone rather for analysis books. Doing otherwise risked being viewed as substandard in terms of literacy.”

So abridged audiobooks have actually at assorted points to be aimed at visually impaired people as well as shunned by institutions supporting them, in an effort to avoid the stigma the the abridged audiobook.

Yet Caedmon thumbed its nose at unabridged purists. It marketed abridgments as a value-added analysis experience. Caedmon editor abridged Lady Chatterley’s Lover by restricting the publication to only Constance Chatterley’s perspective—you have the right to decide for yourself whether this represents an exciting kind of literature remixing or a blasphemous mishandling that a classic.

Other instances Rubery provides in The Untold background of the talking Book, native the liner note of abridged audiobooks, encompass Moll Flanders (“skillfully shortened”), Macbeth (“a true essence”), and also that standard of overabundance verbiage: The divine Bible. Rubery writes,

“Omitting the ‘he saids’ from the Bible’s book of task not just sped things along but likewise highlighted the staying dialogue’s grandeur.”

Even more striking 보다 this practice in biblical trimming is the means that some audiobook authors have used abridgment together an opportunity to improve their work. Poet Galway Kinnell would spontaneously change his poems as soon as reading them to audiences. He preferred these unexpected renovations so lot that he stuck with them subsequently, and used this revisions as soon as recording albums the his poetry, quite than the published versions. Therefore Kinnell cure his poems together ever-evolving an imaginative works—much as an additional celebrated wordsmith, Kanye West, would later do v his released-but-never-definitively-finished album The Life of Pablo.

How an innovation Has shame The Abridged Audiobook

The crucial factors in the rise and fall the abridged audiobooks space economics and technology, i beg your pardon of food interrelate.

In the 1950s, companies like Libraphone and the Audio Book agency seized upon the longer playing time that LP records to record complete novels. But the audiobook industry as a totality didn’t choose up steam until the 1970s; follow to the Audio Publishers Association, libraries began stocking audiobooks in that decade. It ended up being common for bookshops to carry audiobooks in the mid-1980s.

Audiobook service providers didn’t just rely ~ above physical places to stock their products. Mail-order organization was vital to the growth of the industry, and one postwar change that deeply impacted Americans’ tastes in audiobooks to be suburban sprawl and the increase of commuting. Olympic rower Duvall Hecht started the firm Books on ice in 1975, and also business boomed among commuters and travelers. Trentman, the Recorded books founder therefore antipathetic toward abridged books, was a traveling salesman that wanted unabridged audiobooks the would carry out plenty of entertainment throughout long journeys.

Later, Brilliance Corp. Developed the charmingly antiquated-sounding “Bookcassettes.” In the 1980s, the agency even relied top top a special innovation that hasn’t was standing the check of time. As Matthew Rubery explains to book Riot, Brilliance “used a unique, cost-cutting recording technique that doubled a tape’s recording capacity…but do them unplayable ~ above some gadgets without an adapter.”

Abridged audiobooks have actually been declining as physical media prefer CDs come to be less important, and room is much less of a consideration. Being able to fit a book on 5 tapes rather of 10 makes a far-ranging difference come both the cost and also the reader’s experience. Carting around a massive set of tapes for a train journey, i m sorry crowds the end valuable an are in her backpack? No, give thanks to you.

Mark Pearson is a cofounder that Libro.fm, an virtual audiobook save that directs sales with independent bookstores. Pearson point out out one more recent technical development make abridged audiobooks less relevant: the capability to change the playback speed. If listening in ~ 2.0x, a full audiobook deserve to be spend in half the common time.

As a fan of (attempted) slow readingwho is sensitive to the chipmunkiness the sped-up audio, this sound torturous come me. However the speed-change role is advantageous for various other reasons as well, such together slowing down a foreign-language book to improve comprehension.

In 2009, digital downloads became an ext popular than CDs because that audiobooks. The digital boom has even led part publishers to rerecord abridged audiobooks in their unedited versions.

The Plummeting popularity of Abridged Audiobooks

The sales numbers of the Audio Publishers Association, i m sorry go back to 2001, present that abridged audiobooks peaked at 39% that the total audiobook sector in 2004, and this proportion has actually consistently fallen because then.

Today, audiobooks meant for daily consumers are nearly exclusively unabridged. This gives readers full regulate over which components of the story lock skip over (if any) and also avoids any type of sense the “missing out” on components of the plot. Miscellaneous details will impact readers in different ways. What one human being finds insignificant may be hang-this-quote-on-the-wall-worthy because that another.

Furthermore, unabridged audiobooks room a an excellent resource for readers through vision impairments or chronic condition that affects one’s capacity to check out words on page for lengthy periods. Once an audiobook is only available in that abridged version, the takes away the capacity for part readers to experience the whole story as intended through the author.

Pearson tells publication Riot:

“The many returned audiobooks ~ above Libro.fm are abridged editions that our members purchase by mistake.”

Abridged audiobooks account for just 4% of the site’s 125,000 audiobooks, and also make up just .5% the sales.

These paltry percentages complement trends in the more comprehensive industry. Cobb claims that the Audio Publishers Association quit tracking numbers for abridged audiobooks numerous years ago “as they yes, really aren’t a far-reaching part the the market anymore. In 2016 castle were simply 3% the the market.”

Why some Holdouts Still prefer Abridged Audiobooks

So who room abridged audiobooks supposed for today? The most noticeable answer is simply people who want to read books without the filler (sorry, long-winded authors). That might be a human being with a high analysis goal who desires to power v books, a student hoping to acquire the CliffsNotes of one assigned reading, or a parental trying to obtain their young leader interested in audiobooks.

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Abridgment—whether that audio, print, or digital books—also gives an possibility to correct typos and also other errors from earlier versions. And it might be a method to redress the bigotry of old books. Librarian and also fellow publication Riot contributor Anna Gooding-Call recalls, “Cheaper by the Dozen had actually an abridged variation on tape where they cut out the horrifyingly racism episode through the Chinese cook. Big improvement. Ns listened to it with my mom when ns was a kid and also read that separately, and also I remember note the difference.”

Even though abridged audiobooks account for a small share that Libro.fm sales, “I suppose that publishers will continue to develop abridged editions but that the number will decline,” Pearson believes. The pledges the “Libro.fm will continue to offer them even if just a little group of listeners wants the abridged version.”

Academic Rubery likewise believes the abridged audiobooks won’t walk extinct. That predicts the “there will constantly be some market for abridged recordings simply as over there is a market for abridged print books (a shortMoby Dickis famous with kids, because that example). The will simply be more niche than was when the case.”

This post was written v the help of fellow publication Riot contributor Sophia LeFevre.