We now have so many choices in how we consume literary information, from non-fiction to a rattling good story with fiction.
We can enjoy eBooks, paperbacks, hardbacks, large print, or audiobooks, depending on our preferences.
We even have the option to choose an abridged or unabridged version for some books.
With shorter attention spans and busy modern life, you’d think that abridged books and audiobooks would win out every time over the unabridged versions, but that’s really not the case.
So, what’s the difference between unabridged and abridged?
And is unabridged better than abridged?
These are just some of the questions you might have about abridged vs. unabridged audiobooks and print books, so let’s dig into the answers below.
What Is An Abridged Book?
An abridged book is a shortened version that still contains all the main points if it’s non-fiction or the main story if it’s fiction. You can abridge an audiobook or a book in any other format, including eBook and paperback.
You don’t lose anything in terms of the main things you’d want to get from a book if it’s abridged, including the tone and atmosphere of the book. What you do lose is anything that’s considered fluff or not needed to still give you a good experience.
What might be removed from an abridged book?
- Long descriptions
- Technical information
Obviously, this is a skilled job. It takes excellent knowledge of fiction and the book in question to abridge a fiction book and not lose any of the story’s main points or the impression the author wanted to create in people’s minds.
And it requires similar skills to keep the right parts of a non-fiction book to give the reader what was intended by the author.
But it can be done, and, while most works on most platforms are the full, unabridged version, and abridged books aren’t as popular as they once were, you can still buy them.
What Does Unabridged Mean?
An unabridged book in any format is a complete copy of the book with no amendments, shortening, or any other alterations. The book is narrated or published in its entirety, exactly the way the author wrote it.
For fiction, it’s easy to see why unabridged is the most popular type of book. Many readers, especially super fans of particular authors, don’t want to miss a single word of the author’s original writing.
They want to savor the whole book exactly as written and would be disappointed with an abridged version that didn’t include everything.
- If you’ve ever tried to trudge your way through a book you’re not keen on for a course, you know why you’d rather have the abridged version: it takes up less of your time, but you still get the main points of the book.
- Younger readers can find the abridged version of a book much more accessible, opening them up to books they might not otherwise have tried.
Fiction readers in general, want the whole experience. They want to see through the author’s eyes as much as they can.
And they don’t want to miss out on a single description, scene, or nuance. But even here, sometimes the abridged book wins out.
Why Are So Many Audiobooks Abridged?
When audiobooks first appeared, they were originally recorded onto vinyl records.
Obviously, these could only hold so much of a long book, and publishers would have had to use multiple records to record something like War and Peace at far greater expense for both themselves and consumers.
Instead, they offered abridged versions or excerpts of books like the Bible and various classics. Of course, nowadays, book-length isn’t a factor with digital files, but it still affects the cost of production and, therefore, the audiobook price.
Why else might we still abridge audiobooks? We’ve given you a couple of reasons above – abridged works are beneficial for students and for encouraging children to read with simpler versions of longer books, but there are more reasons to abridge:
- Some older works, such as the Dr. Thorndyke Mysteries by R. Austin Freeman, were written when certain attitudes were very different from what they are now. You can read them while bearing that in mind and still enjoy the works for what they are. But an abridged version, created with an excellent sensitivity editor, can remove any problematic areas, creating a better reading experience.
- The longer the book, the more it costs the publisher or the author to produce. An abridged version can allow them to test the waters to see if it’s worth creating the full version. It also means that audiences can read the story for less if authors keep the price down, or authors can choose to keep the price high and receive a bigger portion of their royalties.
- Authors can afford more popular narrators who charge higher fees if they create an abridged version of their book.
Certain genres lend themselves to being abridged as their target market tends to be students, busy entrepreneurs and professionals, and, of course, anyone who would rather enjoy the shorter version.
Some of these genres are self-development, business, finance, the classics, memoirs, and biographies.
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Abridged vs. Unabridged: What You Need to Know for Your Books and Audiobooks
When it comes to abridged vs. unabridged audiobooks and other formats, neither one is better than the other. They both have advantages, and there is an audience for both.
As a writer, what do you need to consider when deciding between abridged and unabridged?
1. Consider your audience.
You know your audience best, and, to market well, you need to know whether they would prefer an abridged or unabridged version of your books. If you write fiction, most of your readers would prefer an unabridged version of your work.
In non-fiction, if your audience consists of students, professionals, and others who might want an abridged version of your work, and particularly if you’re in any of the genres we mentioned above, then do your research, including surveying and polling your audience.
See what other authors are doing in your genre and look at the top results on the audiobook platforms. Take the research results and consider whether it would be worth trying out an abridged version of your bestselling book.
2. Look at your production costs.
Audiobooks do make an excellent extra income stream for authors. It can be worth doing if you have the money to create audiobooks.
If you’d prefer to pay upfront for narration so that you don’t have to do profit share with your narrator on ACX, then you will need quite a considerable budget.
Narrators are highly skilled and put a lot of work into getting your audiobook just right. They contribute greatly to producing the right tone, atmosphere, and experience for your readers. It can take four to six hours to produce just one hour of completed audio, and the average book needs around ten hours of completed audio.
Clearly, the shorter your book, the less you’ll pay, so if you don’t have the budget for an unabridged version, it may be worth looking at whether an abridged version of your book would be acceptable for your audience.
3. Consider your narrator choices.
Your narrator can make or break your audiobook, and they do have to be the right one for the job. There are popular narrators in some areas of fiction, such as romance, and readers will follow these narrators over others.
You need the best and most popular narrator you can afford, but they’ve got to fit your budget too.
Something else becoming increasingly popular is having a full cast production with the right voice actors to play each character. These audiobooks provide an incredible experience for listeners, but of course, there is a cost to providing a full-cast audiobook.
If it suits your audience, you can keep costs down if you create an abridged version of your book instead of the full-length, unabridged version.
The other consideration is that more popular and well-known narrators may be more easily attracted to shorter, abridged audiobooks than longer projects.
4. Think about your pricing.
With an abridged version of your book, you have options with your pricing that you might not have with the unabridged book.
You can keep your pricing higher for the abridged version and enjoy higher royalties, or you can lower the price to benefit your readers.
A lower price may encourage more sales and lead to higher income anyway. You could test different prices for your abridged and unabridged books to see what works best for you and your readers.
Abridged books in any format can open up books to whole new audiences. Children can more easily read and understand classics and other stories.
Students and learners can benefit from a quicker understanding of the main points of both fiction and non-fiction.
And authors can provide readers, who might not otherwise give them a chance, with a taste of their work. Abridged books might be less popular now, but they do still have their place.