When I first started listening to audio books I was a little confused about some of the terminology. I was not aware of what the differences were between abridged or unabridged audio books. Simply put an unabridged audio book is read and recorded word for word. An abridged audio book is shortened typically by an editor in a way that is meant to provide you with the best trade off between a valuable listening experience and your time. When you read a book it is pretty straight forward. You read the pages as they are laid out for you at the pace that you the reader are capable of reading. Typically we read in our heads faster than we can read out loud.
When audio books initially came out they were produced on cassette. Many factors influenced whether a book was abridged, one was the length of the book itself. Most books when read out loud can be 20 to 40 hours long. If you as an audio book buyer are looking to get the most out of your time you might not want to spend 40 hours listening to a book. You may just want the best parts of the books read to you in a way that you will gain the maximum advantage with the least amount of time. Production costs are also a factor. I am sure that in the cassette days production costs were definitely higher at least for the physical product itself but downloadable audio books have dramatically decreased the physical costs of the product itself. The other costs of course are still there like the work to abridge the work, narrate it and record it.
Besides time and costs there is a significant issue of preference. Some audio book listeners want to experience the book as it was written. Unabridged audio books allow that. In some cases authors may or may not approve or be involved in the production of an abridged version of their work. This is why when you buy an abridged audio book it may say something like “approved by the author” so that you know that at least they approved of the way the book was abridged. Unabridged audio books are also good for listeners that may be visually impaired or that have reading challenges.
Some may think that abridged versions of written works compromise the quality of the original work. I think it depends on the book. Some books were never meant to be audio books. Typically hard core text books don’t make good candidates. The resulting abridged audio book may also end up being better than the original if the original had too much fluff that really didn’t add value to the book. I take it on a case by case basis and look out for references regarding publishers and editors just in case I find a trend one way or another on whether I enjoy or don’t enjoy a particular audio book. Personally I have found that I prefer unabridged versions of classic books like the pictured War and Peace which is a great choice for a heavy commuter.