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A ccording to the Audio Publishers Association, sales of abridged versions of audiobooks have declined significantly to a mere 13% of total digital book sales. In response, one publisher has come up with an interesting solution.

In the 90s, abridged versions of books on audio sold as many as their unabridged counterparts. Their popularity was most likely related to portability and convenience. Smaller numbers of CDs or cassettes, paired with a smaller price tag, made them a great option for listeners.

The advent of digital downloads has made a huge impact on unabridged audio sales. Readers are no longer saddled with cumbersome CDs and multiple cassettes. Prices are more affordable for unabridged versions and the ability to listen via iPod or other portable media players make them easy to read on-the-go.

Audiobook Podcasts

According to the NY Times, Hachette Audio plans to take an unprecedented move with Transition by Iain M. Banks (narrated by Peter Kenny). Beginning on Tuesday, September 21, the novel will be uploaded as a free serialized podcast in the US, with twice weekly installments for a total of 23 episodes.

The promotion began in the UK on September 3 and has risen to the 8th most downloaded podcast and the unabridged book is at #11 on the bestseller list.

The goals of the free podcast are to entice listeners to either buy the full version so they do not have to wait for each installment, or to buy the full version to get the “whole story”. The abridged podcasts will total 6.5 hours in length while the unabridged runs for more than13 hours.

I am intrigued by this idea. While I understand the marketing plan, I’m not sure it will generate interest in the unabridged download. I am not a big fan of shortened versions of books – I always feel like I may have missed something that I would have enjoyed, or would have enriched the book for me.

Podcasts are easy to download and the episodes will be in easy to digest sizes. By spacing out the releases, impatient readers may indeed be tempted to pay for the book. Faced with the choice between a shortened free book or paying for the full-length one? In this economy, many readers may settle for the free version.

Downloading a serialized free digital book is not a new concept, but using the abridged book in this way is unique. I will be downloading the first episode when it is available, will you?

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