Unabridged Audiobooks vs. Abridged

Audio books with headphone

Many audiobooks are provided in both abridged and unabridged formats.
Unabridged audiobooks are narrated word-for-word from the text of the written book. Abridged versions are shortened, sometimes significantly, by editing the content to appeal to readers who want to read the content, but do not want to invest the time. So my question is this: As a reader, how do I choose which one to read?

Advantages of Abridged:

Some readers do not want to invest 12-30 hours or more to listening to an audiobook. They elect to listen to the shorter versions that can provide most of the content in a condensed amount of time. Abridged versions are also less expensive than their unabridged counterparts.

Audio Books on ShelfAdvantages of Unabridged:

Unabridged volumes contain the book in its entirety, exactly as it was written. No content is edited or omitted. Readers are listening to the book precisely as the author intended it to be heard.

Is One Better?

I suppose that if a book contains a lot of “fluff” or excessively descriptive passages that are not necessary to the general story, it would be a good candidate for abridging. Similarly, nonfiction books that examine minutia that do not enhance the content could be shortened without detriment to the overall substance.

Unscientific Comparison:

Let’s look at one of my favorites: The Time Traveler’s Wife. The unabridged version boasts a length of 17 hours and 43 minutes, while the abridged version is 12 hours and 6 minutes. An average person reads aloud at a rate of about 150 words/minute. The average number of words per page is probably around 300. By my inexact and unscientific estimation, the 5.6 hour reduction equals a loss of around 168 pages. Wow. That seems like a lot to lose!

My Conclusion:

I can’t imagine missing out on any of the content of my favorite books. Personally, I think I would be concerned with what I was missing. An editor may decide that a passage is nonessential to the experience, but my opinion may differ. I wouldn’t want to miss one word of The Time Traveler’s Wife nor a page of any of Wally Lamb’s intricate stories. Will I always feel this way? I have no clue. For now, I’ll stick to the whole story.

Meet the Author


Reading and writing are my passions. I read a lot of paper books as well as listen to audiobooks utilizing playaways from the local library. I listen to most of my audiobooks on my iPod. I read about one book/week and am rarely seen without one in hand. Come along and discuss this article in our friendly community forum.

7 comments… add one
  • Michelle Harrington Oct 22, 2009, 5:59 am

    I was wondering: Do audio book listeners like their books read by one narrator, or do they like having a narrator and a few of the main characters done by other voices?

    Do audio book listeners like a little music before the book begins?

    My daughter wrote a novel that is being published by Tate Publishing. It is called “Griffin’s Calling.” It is a preteen/Young adult fantasy. We have decided to do our own Unabridged Audio Book because we have a family friend with their own recording studio. Just wondering what the best way to complete this project. Thanks for your help Michelle Harrington

  • AudioForBooks Oct 26, 2009, 8:14 pm

    Hi Michelle,

    It is normal to have a small introduction musically, usually announcing the name of the author and the Publisher.

    Usually it is one narrator who represents each voice, (Jim Dale holds the Guinness World Records for having created and recorded 134 different character voices for Harry Potter and the Deathly Hallows) that being said there are many audio books that employ more then one narrator for a book.

    I would suggest the following resource as a start:


    Best of luck with your project.

    Pete Markovic

  • julie Jan 16, 2010, 5:23 am

    Do authors have input or conversations with the narrator regarding their characters? Do they choose narrators after short demo’s from their story? I’m just curious, since it can have such a huge affect on how the story is perceived by the listener. It’s very disturbing to hear the sequel of a story being read by a different narrator. The personalities and characters can change so much by just the voice.

    Thank you for your time.

    An avid audio listener

  • AudioforBooks Jan 16, 2010, 9:05 pm

    Hi Julie,

    That’s a very good question, there are many factors that determines who will be the narrator of any audio book, one that is obvious is does the narrator have the necessary skills to bring the characters to life as depicted in the book by the author?

    If the narrator is able to speak with the original author and gain some knowledge about the characters themselves, this would with out doubt make the job easier, if not then it is the job of the narrator to apply his own interpretation.

    There can be no doubt that the narrator can make or break an audiobook.

    Audio Books Are Brought to Life by the Skills of the Narrator.


  • Amit Patel Sep 3, 2011, 7:57 am

    Would you not calculate the number of pages cut out as 12.1 / 17.73 * no.of pages in the original book? its far simpler and more accurate.

  • Peter Sep 3, 2011, 10:50 am

    Apart from shortening or altering the original text, there is no definition that defines how much has been altered. The amount it has been shortened is not normally stated.

    However by comparing the length of the unbridged version of the audiobook with the abridged version will give you an idea.

  • Darrin Greene Dec 7, 2011, 1:54 pm

    Thanks for this article. It was most helpful as I venture into the world of audio books.

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