Abridged Vs. Unabridged Books

Nowadays, people have several ways to learn new information. Aside from just reading books, novels, journals, and other written materials, modern learners now have another option – learning through digital or audiobooks.

Essentially, an audiobook is a recording of a book or other written work being read out loud.

A reading of the complete text is known as unabridged, while readings of a shorter version is known as abridged. 

In this article, we look at the difference between abridged and unabridged books, as well as the pros and cons of each. 

Abridged vs. Unabridged

Wondering what the difference is between abridged and unabridged books?

Simply put, an abridged book is a shortened version of the full text. If done right, the themes, mood, and tones should all be similar to the original text. Conversely, unabridged books consist of the full literary text, kept intact as it was originally published.  

Abridged books can be shortened between 35% – 75%.

Generally, an editor will go through the text, removing scenes, references, and other elements that seem redundant or unnecessary.

In fiction, this is usually long descriptions, world-building elements, or backstory that don’t contribute to the main narrative.

In non-fiction books, editors often remove technical details and references. 

On the other hand, and unabridged book has the original content. It is not shortened or condensed in any way, and is exactly as it was when originally published. It is a true representation of how the author wrote the story.

Unabridged books are more complete in content (longer) compared to abridged books having simpler content (shorter). 

Abridged vs. Unabridged: Pros and Cons

So, what are the pros and cons of abridged and unabridged books? Read on to find out.

  • Abridged Books: Pros and Cons 

It is believed that abridged audiobooks gained popularity near the beginning of the audiobook boom – late 90s and early 2000s – because producers thought that their listeners wouldn’t stick around for over 10 hours of narration. Thus, majority of audiobooks were first offered in an abridged format, then in an unabridged format in case there were some listeners who wanted the full version. It didn’t become clear that unabridged audiobook versions were what majority of audiences wanted until many years into the growth of audiobook popularity. 

Recently, the audiobook industry has seen a general decline in the distribution of abridged audiobooks. Today, the industry is asking for unabridged book versions almost exclusively. 

However, that’s not to say that abridged audiobooks have been completely removed from the industry. Abridged audiobooks exist to reduce the listening time for audiences. Typically, the average unabridged audiobook length is around 10 hours – depending on genre, pacing, word count, and other factors. The abridgement process can reduce a book size anywhere from 30% – 75%, so the listening time can be significantly reduced. 

For this reason, people who love stories without ‘the fluff’ prefer abridged audiobooks. Of course, to some people, ‘the fluff’ is what makes a book great. For those people, perhaps the unabridged versions are more preferable. 

There are many debates online about the usefulness of abridged audiobooks, and though majority of the conversation focuses on the decrease of abridged purchases as mentioned above, there are some arguments that suggest otherwise. For example, some people say abridged audiobooks are a great way to engage a young listener, introducing them to the world of audiobooks. Others suggest that abridged audiobooks are useful for college and university students who want to learn more about a book for class, but feel that they don’t have time to read the full length. 

There’s also some history suggesting that the abridgement of a novel was initially done to provide a more cost-effective option for the audience, or to serve as an early release for a marketing strategy to spark a deeper interest with an audience. For marketing purposes, some abridged audiobooks are even narrated by celebrities, to provide further endorsement for the unabridged version being released at a future date. 

  • Unabridged Books: Pros and Cons 

As platforms like GoodReads, Audiobooks.com and Audible have become increasingly popular in the audiobook space and provided access to numerous unabridged audiobook recordings, their customers have changed industry statistics in favor of unabridged audiobooks through their purchasing behavior. These online platforms have done a great job responding to market demand. 

It’s not surprising that the top 100 best-selling audiobooks on Audible are all unabridged versions. Many people believe that the rise of unabridged audiobooks coincide with the rise of podcast consumption, as the public has re-adjusted to long-form audio entertainment once again. Today, there are thousands more unabridged audiobooks available than their abridged counterparts. 

Research from the Audio Publishers Association confirms people’s love for unabridged audiobooks. When conducting their research, they primarily focused on where people listened to audiobooks. They found that majority of audiobook listeners do so from home or in their car. It can be inferred that, during those times in our day-to-day lives, we’re not in a state of mind that has us quick-scanning for summaries, quick facts, etc. Instead, during those times, we’re quite open to immersing ourselves in the details of a fully developed novel. The problem is that most people still want to be able to multitask, and sitting to read a book is too limiting. 

How Can You Tell if a Book is Abridged or Unabridged?

If you want to know whether or not a book or audiobook is abridged or unabridged, the word ‘abridged’ will appear on the cover page, in the description, or in the details (metadata that includes author, publisher, title, etc.)

On online platforms like Audible, they list whether or not an audiobook is abridged in the details section. It’s easy to miss the ‘abridged’ or ‘unabridged’ label in the details section, so make sure to read carefully before purchasing a book or audiobook. 

If you’re an author who has self-published an abridged book or audiobook, make sure that the word ‘abridged’ appears as clearly as possible. If you don’t make it clear, you’ll definitely hear from many angry fans. 

Conclusion

Abridged books are a shortened version of the full text. Conversely, unabridged books consist of the full literary text, kept intact as it was originally published. 

Abridged and unabridged books each have their own pros and cons. For instance, people who love stories without ‘the fluff’ prefer abridged audiobooks. Of course, to some people, ‘the fluff’ is what makes a book great. For those people, perhaps the unabridged versions are more preferable.
Which type of audiobook to you prefer? Abridged? Unabridged?

Let us know!

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