A man listening to an audiobook in a large room filled with natural light. Is he listening to an abridged or unabridged audiobook?

In light of the new usage statistics published by the Audio Publishers Association (APA) highlighting that 67 million Americans completed at least one audiobook in the last year, conversations around the audiobook industry are more important than ever.

If you’re a publisher or audiobook producer, you’re most likely familiar with the difference between abridged and unabridged content.

(Let’s recap, really quickly, just in case: Abridged effectively means shortened without sacrificing any of the major themes of the book. Unabridged refers to the full literary work remaining untouched.)

What you might not know, however, is which to use for your next audiobook project. And since it’s quite a debatable subject, remaining objective about the needs of the audience and the pros and cons of each publishing format is critical.

We’ll do just that – objectively highlight the pros and cons of each, the biggest use cases for each, and provide audiobook industry insight about when abridged and unabridged versions are most used.

Abridged Versus Unabridged Audiobooks

Advantages and Disadvantages of Abridged Audiobooks

It’s believed that abridged audiobooks had their time to shine near the beginning of the audiobook boom (late 90s and early 2000s) because producers thought their listeners wouldn’t stick around for 10+ hours of narration. Therefore, the majority of the audiobooks were first offered in an abridged format, then in an unabridged format, just in case there were some listeners who were seeking out the full version. It didn’t become apparent that unabridged versions were what the vast majority of audiences wanted until many years into the growth of audiobook popularity.

In recent years, the audiobook industry has seen an overall decline in the distribution of abridged audiobooks. Orca Book Publishers’ Ebook and Audiobook Manager, Shari Nakagawa, told us that they no longer produce abridged audiobooks and that “the industry is now asking for unabridged books almost exclusively.”

the [audiobook] industry is now asking for unabridged books almost exclusively 

– Shari Nakagawa, Ebook and Audiobook Manager, Orca Book Publishers

However, that’s not to say that abridged audiobooks no longer have a place in the industry. Abridged audiobooks exist for the purpose of quickening the listening time for the audience. With the average unabridged audiobook length typically being around 10 hours (depending on genre, word count, pacing, and many other factors), and because the abridgement process can reduce a book size anywhere from 30% to 75%, the listening time can be dramatically reduced.

For that reason, abridged audiobooks lend themselves to audiences who love a story without ‘the fluff.’ Of course, to some, ‘the fluff’ is what makes a book great. For those people, perhaps the unabridged versions are more suited.

There are great debates online about the usefulness of abridged audiobook, and though the majority of the conversation falls in line with the decrease of abridged purchases mentioned above, there are some interjections that suggest otherwise. For instance, some say that it’s a great way to engage a young listener, and introduce them to the beautiful world of audiobooks. Others suggest it’s useful for college and university students who are looking to become familiar with a book for a class, but feel they don’t have the time to dedicate to all of the details.

There is history that suggests the abridgement of a novel was initially done to provide a more cost effective option for the audience (and for the producer), or to serve as an early release for a marketing initiative to spark a deeper interest with an audience. Often times, the latter option was narrated by a celebrity to provide further endorsement for the unabridged version being released at a future date.

Advantages and Disadvantages of Unabridged Audiobooks

As hubs like Audible, GoodReads, and Audiobooks.com made their name in the audiobook space and provided access to more unabridged audiobook recordings, their customers have shifted industry statistics in the favor of unabridged audiobooks through their purchasing behavior. These online platforms have done an exceptional job responding to market demand, to say the least.

It’s not surprising that the top 100 best selling audiobooks on Audible are all unabridged. Many speculate that the rise of unabridged audiobooks coincides with rise of podcast consumption as the public has re-adjusted to long-form audio entertainment once again (we’re reflecting back on the late 1940s when radio provided more entertainment than television).

Right now, there are thousands more unabridged audiobooks available than their abridged counterparts.

New research from the Audio Publishers Association (APA) inadvertently attests to the love of unabridged audiobooks. When conducting their research, they focused on where people listen to audiobooks, and they found that the majority of audiobook listeners do so from home or in the car. It can be inferred that, during those times in our everyday lives, we’re not in a state of mind that has us quick-scanning for fast facts, roundups, summaries, etc. Rather, during those times, we are quite open to immersing ourselves into the intricacies of a fully developed novel. The problem is that we still want to be able to multitask, and sitting to read a book is too limiting (because doing housework, like 56% of audiobook-listening Americans are doing while they listen in, is difficult to do while reading).

What Genres Use Abridged and Unabridged Audiobook Publishing Formats

When browsing online audiobook hubs, the genres of Business & Money, Biographies and Memoirs, Children’s Books, Self-Help, Classics, and Religion and Spirituality make up the vast majority of the available abridged audiobooks.

That directly reflects the use cases mentioned above (post-secondary students looking to be familiarized with classic literature, introducing children to audiobooks, etc.), and also speaks to the state of mind people are in when seeking out an audiobook in an abridged format. That state of mind being more of a “Can I have just the main information I need, quickly please and thanks?” Rather than the riding-the-waves state of mind that one is in when seeking out an unabridged audiobook format.

As expected, the categories offering the most unabridged audiobook formats are Literature and Fiction, and Mystery and Thrillers. These are the types of novels offering thick plots and character development so rich you can almost taste it! People who love these genres will be less likely to seek out an abridged version of a book from these genres.

To Recap on What to Consider When Choosing Your Next Audiobook Publishing Format

The discussions on this go far and wide. And though there is an overwhelming favoritism for unabridged audiobooks, there are a few remaining use cases for abridged audiobooks.

So long as publishers and producers are paying attention to their audiences needs and the genre of the literary work, they will make the best decision for their customer.

A book about how to succeed as an entrepreneur is most likely going to perform better as an abridged audiobook than a classic novel about a captain of a whaling ship looking for revenge on a great white whale. Making those types of distinctions are (apparently) critical to the success of audiobook producers and publishers.

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Bringing a wealth of digital marketing knowledge to Voices.com, Niki prides herself on her ability to research and communicate exactly what visitors want. As a graduate of Fanshawe College's Business Marketing program, she aims to educate and inform audiences on how they can level-up their businesses, especially when it comes to tracking and measuring performance online. In her words: "There's nothing more rewarding than seeing content metrics that prove your audience loves reading what you've researched and written about!"

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