Audiobooks have been around for decades. They really aren’t new even though the recent surge of listening to them is. You may remember listening to audiobooks when you were a kid. Maybe on a cassette or even a record (but let’s be careful about dating ourselves). Now, however, audiobooks are strong in the mainstream market and are an excellent way to get your book fix in. With easy access to audiobooks on all of our devices with both abridged and unabridged versions, listeners have convenient books at their fingertips whenever they want to listen. More and more books of all genres are becoming available in audio format, and this provides a wide variety for anyone who wants to listen. Listeners often also have a choice between abridged and unabridged. Voice actors can bring these books to life and create a lovely experience for the listener.
The History and Rise of the Audio Book
Interestingly enough, audiobooks made their debut on long-playing (LP) records in the 1930s (Gizmodo.com). Originally, The American Foundation for the Blind created them for people with visual impairments so they could hear books. It was a great way to give more people access to books. Later, schools began using LP audiobooks for children whose second language was English. In the 1960s, audiobooks shifted from LPs to cassettes and then to CDs in the 1980s. While people with visual impairments and English as a second language still enjoy them, the audience has become broader. It was around then that the big publishing houses opened audio divisions to pursue this medium.
Audiobook consumption continues to grow. According to Forbes,
US publishers reported audiobook sales in 2018 that totaled $940 million, a revenue figure that has grown a full 24.5% year-over-year since 2017. Unit sales are up even more, rising 27.3% over 2017.These numbers mark the seventh year in a row that the audiobook industry has seen double-digit growth.
Digital media has a big role in this as it is easier and easier to not only listen but to also gain access to audiobooks. The Forbes article also shares that the most popular audiobook genres in the US in 2018 were General Fiction, Mysteries/Thrillers/Suspense, and Science Fiction/Fantasy. Non-Fiction sales were close, representing 32.7% of unit sales in 2018. With abridged and unabridged versions of many books, too, the options only increase.
Audiobooks, abridged and unabridged, open up the world of books to many more people, whatever their previous restrictions may be. These are a viable alternative to print books. If someone can’t read for whatever reason, they can listen. And if someone is short on time, they can listen while doing other activities. Audiobooks create far-reaching accessibility.
Abridged Versus Unabridged Audio Books
When it comes to audiobooks, no matter the genre, you can often find both abridged and unabridged versions. But what really is the difference? Well, according to AudioForBooks,
An unabridged book has the original content; it is not condensed or shortened in any way and is exactly as it was when originally published. It is a true representation of how the author wrote the story.
An abridged Audiobook is a shortened version of the audiobook, it is condensed by using fewer words, but still retains a sense of the original book.
Okay, so that is the literal sense of each, but why would you choose one over the other? Each one has its own pros and cons. Let’s take a look.
Abridged Pros and Cons
Abridged audiobooks are shorter versions of the original text. One main advantage is that they take less time to listen to. An abridged version can be quite a bit shorter than the unabridged. Another advantage is that some of the extraneous, consuming material is omitted. This can make the book more enjoyable and set a more preferred pace. However, the flip side of this is that valuable subtleties can be lost. What you get is not always what the author chose to give you. If someone is looking for a quicker “read” and doesn’t mind losing a little of the content of the story, abridged may be a good choice.
Unabridged Pros and Cons
The purists prefer unabridged audiobooks. These are read directly from the original forms of the books so they are how the authors meant them to be. Just as people now are enjoying serial podcasts, they seem to be enjoying longer audio reads, too. It’s a nice feeling to look forward to hearing what is happening next in your book during your daily commute instead of dreading the ride. Some audiobook apps have the ability to speed up the reading rate, so the unabridged version can move along a little quicker. A negative to the unabridged version for some is waiting for something to happen. Some books can take a while to get started or for the action to kick in. In an unabridged version, the listener has to wait. For those listeners with thin patience, this could be a drawback.
If time is of the essence or you’re an impatient listener, abridged may suit you better. If you love the subtle nuances of a story or want as much as detail as you can get, or you just want to stay true to the author, unabridged audiobooks are probably more your style.
The Importance of the Right Voice
Whether the audiobook is abridged or unabridged, the right voice actor can make all the difference. The listener is investing time (more with an unabridged version) into listening to this, so he wants to be entertained and drawn into the story or content. No matter if the book is a mystery, a biography, romance, or something else, the voiceovers need to be strong and indicative of the content. Just as an actor in a film can dictate the success of the movie, the right voice actor has that effect on an audiobook. The voice connects the audience to the book. It elicits the emotion and draws the vision in the listener’s mind. A voice can be magical when it’s just the right one.
But how do you find the right voice for an audiobook? What are some characteristics to look for? Just like anything else, the first thing to do is think about the audience. Who is listening and what are they expecting? Informative, sensual, captivating, suspenseful, encouraging? Voices with different tones and characteristics will convey completely different moods. Think about a sensual, buttery voice reading a romance novel compared to a voice that is informative and educational. You get a very different mood, eh?
A Short Guide to Voice Over Basics shares some informative material on just how important a voice is to the success of the piece. Some of the characteristics to look for are things like smooth pacing, clear enunciation, good pronunciation, balanced volume, and a pleasing tone. These are standard characteristics that will make the voice more appealing to any listener and any genre.
Voice Characteristics for an Unabridged Audio Book
When it comes to choosing the right voice for an unabridged audiobook, you’ve got some extra things to consider. For one, this is going to be a lengthy project. You’ll want a voice actor with the stamina to complete it. The actor also needs experience, perhaps in film or stage acting. This isn’t a project for the novice voice actor.
Think about an unabridged novel with dialogue and a rich array of characters. The voice actor is going to need to switch it up for different characters. Here is an example regarding accomplished voice actor Barbara Rosenblat from a New York Times article, In a murder mystery, Ms. Rosenblat said she could develop a more sinister voice for the red-herring suspect, and make the voice of the little old lady next door who really did it more enduring. Ms. Rosenblat also shares that everything is in the voice; there are no subtleties that actors can convey with a shake of their head or lift of an eyebrow. It’s all in the voice.
Another characteristic of great unabridged audiobook voice actors is the talent to take on different dialects and accents. Ms. Rosenblat voices characters with British, Indian, Arabic, Egyptian, Irish, Austro-Hungarian and Texan accents. And she is the voice of men and women. Clearly versatility is a strong attribute when it comes to voicing unabridged audiobooks.
The Future of Audio Books
Where it was once thought that audiobooks were the easy way out of reading, now they are taking their place on voracious reader’s nightstands….or electronic devices. People now don’t need to wait for those few minutes before bed to wind down and read. They can read/listen on their commutes, at the gym, walking the dog, delivering pizza… audiobooks open the world of reading up even more than before.
The future of this medium is strong. Every year sees more audiobook listeners. As technology advances further, this genre is sure to grow and become even more accessible. Audiobooks are here to stay, and their audience is consistently growing. This means that the future of audiobook voice actors is bright, too. For those that have the skills to take on lengthy, unabridged versions of books in audio forms, they can look optimistically ahead. A versatile, skilled voice actor could be in high demand. After all, the voice is what makes the books.
The Big Takeaway
Audiobooks are big. They come in all subjects and genres, abridged and unabridged. The audience comes in all shapes and sizes, too. Lawyers, moms, students, teachers, gardeners, they all listen. With the accessibility of audio books, more and more people of different backgrounds, ages, professions, and socioeconomic levels are listening. When the voice actor is captivating, these listeners keep wanting more. It’s not only the story now, but in an audio book, it is also the voice that draws listeners in. So spend time choosing that voice actor. You can always turn to a professional agency to help you find that actor if it makes it easier.