Abridged vs Unabridged Books – What’s the Difference?

If you're part of the whopping 45% of Americans who have listened to an audiobook at some point, you've likely come across the terms “abridged” and “unabridged.” And if you're a writer, you may already know the world of audiobooks — particularly if you're thinking about publishing an audiobook of your own.

Either way, it's good to know the difference between an abridged version and an unabridged version.

In this article, you will learn:
  1. The difference between abridged and unabridged books
  2. Why abridged books came about
  3. The benefits of abridged and unabridged books
  4. What people want: abridged or unabridged?
  5. Which to choose for your audiobook

What’s the Difference Between Abridged and Unabridged Books?

Abridged audiobooks are shortened versions of the original literature, sticking to the main themes, plot, and/or pertinent information while cutting out any “fluff.” Unabridged versions are true to the original book, narrated or performed word for word. While the vast majority of today's audiobook sales are of unabridged books, there's still a market for abridged books.

But it's not just the audiobook world that offers abridged versions of books. There are certain abridged books available in print and ebook format, as well.

Let's explore the difference between abridged and unabridged books a little deeper so you can know which is best for you. We’ll cover which is best for listening and, for those self-published authors out there, which is best if you’re going to create an audiobook.

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The Birth of Abridged Audiobooks

Back when the first audiobooks came out for public consumption, those in the burgeoning audiobook industry felt that people wouldn't want to sit through hours and hours of a book, no matter the subject. They were also keeping an eye on a number of factors that could affect sales, such as production costs and pricing.

Since the best option for audiobooks at the time was the vinyl record, it would take a collection of these large records to record an unabridged audiobook version of, say, Melville's Moby Dick. This would drive up costs, which, in turn, would turn potential purchasers off.

So the first audiobooks sold were excerpts of famous works from the likes of Helen Keller, Edgar Allan Poe, and Dylan Thomas. Some other favorites included short works like plays and poems, along with excerpts from the Bible.

But things have changed a lot since then. Specifically, you don't have to carry around or store a large book of records or make sure you don't scratch your audio CD when taking it out of the Walkman. (I thought Walkman’s were the coolest — I don’t care if I’m showing my age.)

The digital revolution has changed the way we listen to everything, and audiobooks are no exception. And our listening habits are changing with the times. 

Benefits of Abridged Books

When cruising the unending annals of Audible's library, you'll still see some abridged audiobook versions for sale. And you can still find abridged print books. But there are some specific benefits to each of these.

One of the main benefits of an abridged book — whether in print or in audio format — is to make the book accessible to younger readers. I'm reminded of the collection of Great Illustrated Classics that introduced me to classic books like The Red Badge of Courage, The Count of Monte Cristo, and Treasure Island

These are abridged versions of classic books that are designed for young readers. They make them easier to read and keep the plot, mood, and tone of the original book (in most cases). After all, only the most adventurous young reader would pick up a book like Les Miserables and read the whole thing through with an unabridged dictionary at her side.

Most abridged audiobooks are simply shortened versions of the original works to give the listener the main points of the story or the most important pieces of information without any extra stuff.

But you may be wondering: “What extra stuff?”

Well, here's where we get to the conflict!

Abridged or Unabridged?

It seems that the vast majority of today's audiobook listeners prefer unabridged versions. Most people multitask while they're listening to an audiobook. Whether that means driving to and from work or washing the dishes at home, people want to immerse themselves in the book. They don't want to miss a detail.

And if the author is doing his or her job well, there shouldn't be any extraneous words, anyway. Every word should contribute to character, plot, or mood. For nonfiction books, every word should work to convey the information the reader is looking for.

In short, people want to hear the book as the author intended it. They want the unabridged book.

But there's a smaller group of listeners that prefer the abridged edition of certain kinds of books. Mostly, these people are students (college and beyond), busy professionals, parents buying for their children, or those who simply don't want to invest a ton of time in a book. With this in mind, it's no big surprise that the majority of abridged books are in one of the following topics:

  • Religion & Spirituality
  • Self-Help
  • Biographies and Memoirs
  • Business and Finances
  • Classics
  • Children's Books

On the flip side, thrillers, mysteries, and literary fiction have the fewest abridged audiobooks. The listeners of these genres want the original work, not just a shortened version of the main story.

Should You Publish an Abridged Version?

Publishing an abridged version of your book in audio form does have some major benefits. These include:

  • Lower Production Costs
  • Less Time Invested
  • Lower Price Tag (Or Higher Royalties)
  • Attractive to Certain Listeners

However, it's important to consider if these benefits are worth it for a book in your genre. If you're a nonfiction author, the abridged form may sell better than the unabridged. People may want a short version that hits on all the major points. Especially if you write in one of the genres mentioned above.

If you're a fiction writer, you can rest easy knowing that publishing an unabridged audiobook is the best way to go. Most fiction listeners don't want a shorter version of the book. They want the most bang for their buck, and that means they want the original version.

Of course, if you have the resources, you could always produce an abridged audiobook for a smaller upfront investment to see if it takes off. If you have a big enough audience, you could release an unabridged edition later, as many big-name authors used to do.

One thing is for sure: audiobooks aren't going anywhere. In fact, many people think they're in the middle of a huge upsurge. The sales numbers seem to support that.

Should You Publish Abridged Print Books?

If you’re considering publishing an abridged version of your print or ebook, there’s really not a huge market for it. It’s best to stick with your original version unless you have strong reason to believe an abridged version would reach readers you can’t already reach with your original book.


Reading is a blast, but there's just not enough time in the day. Thank goodness for audiobooks. But if you don't even have enough time to invest in an unabridged audiobook, you can always check and see if there's a shorter abridged format available.

While abridged books work off the original content, they use fewer words and cut out anything that isn't completely necessary. While purists think that this takes away from the original version, sometimes you just need to save time and go for the abridged book.

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