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Abridgement or abridgment is a term defined as "shortening" or "condensing" and is most commonly used in reference to the act of reducing a written work, typically a book, into a shorter form while maintaining the unity of the source. The abridgement can be true to the original work in terms of mood and tone, capturing the parts the abridging author perceives to be most important; it could be a complete parody of the original; or it could fall anywhere in-between, either generally capturing the tone and message of the original author but falling short in some manner, or subtly twisting his words and message to favor a different interpretation or agenda.
A written work may be abridged to make it more accessible to a wider audience; for example, to make an adaptation of it as an audio book or a television show, to make a more convenient companion to an already established work, or to create a shorter reference version.
Abridgement for audio 
Abridgement is most often used to adapt a book into a narrated audio version. Because books written for adults are generally meant to be read silently to oneself (which is usually much faster than reading aloud), most books can take between 20 and 40 hours to read aloud. Because many audio book listeners are looking to more quickly listen to the information in a book, and because of the high cost associated with recording and distributing 40 hours of audio, audio book versions of novels are often produced in an abridged version.
Some party, usually an editor for the book's publishing company, will go through the text of the book and remove elements, notations, references, narratives, and sometimes entire scenes from a book that could be considered superfluous to the actual story or focus of the book in order to make its audible reading time shorter. A fully abridged audio book can span as little as 4 hours for a book that would span 20 hours unabridged.
The easiest content of a fiction book to edit out is back story often provided for characters or story elements that help support the reality of the story for the reader, but do not provide any narrative to the story itself. For example, a passage such as "John sped away in his automobile, a red 1967 Mustang he'd purchased from a junkyard and spent most of his college years restoring with his father" could be abridged to "John sped away in his automobile, a red 1967 Mustang" or even "John sped away in his car."
In a nonfiction piece, the most commonly abridged details are references, charts, details, and facts that are used to support an author's claim. While it would be unprofessional or irresponsible to omit such details from a book, it is understandable for an audio book as it is assumed the listener wants to hear the author's opinion, and if he/she needs to check the details he/she may refer to the text.
Occasionally, an abridged audio book will be advertised as "Abridgement approved by the author," which would imply that the original work's author has reviewed the trimmed down version of his/her work and agrees that the intention or narrative of his story has not been lost, or that no vital information has been removed.
In many cases, an audio book for a popular title is available in both an abridged and unabridged version, though the abridged version often is released first and almost always costs significantly less than the unabridged version. Often, the two versions are produced independently of each other and may have different narrators. Unabridged versions of books are popular among those with poor eyesight or reading skills who wish to appreciate the entirety of the work, while the abridged version is more often preferred by those who just want to follow the story in a quick and entertaining way.
On the radio (for example, in British Radio 4 programmes as Book of the Week, Book at Bedtime, Afternoon Reading, and Go 4 It for children), books are almost always abridged. Because of this, if someone were trying to read along with the book, one would find it much harder than on an audio book.
Abridgement for print 
A shortened form of literary work, in which the major themes of the original are kept. Books are abridged for faster and easier reading. The Signet Classics Abridged Works are notable examples of abridgment; the Signet Classics Bible, for example, is 40 percent shorter than the 850,000-word King James Version. Although well-known passages in abridged works are often left intact, editors may remove "repetition, rhetoric and redundancy" from a complete work.
Until roughly the mid-nineteenth century, the act of abridgment was widely regarded as Fair use and was among the most frequently abused loopholes in British and American copyright law. However, by the 1870s international outcry from authors and publishers alike prompted legislatures to consider revisions to end this "very unreasonable" principle.
While increasingly uncommon, some books are published as abridged versions of earlier books. This is most common in textbooks, usually lengthy works in complicated fields like engineering or medicine. Abridged versions of popular textbooks are published to be used as study aids or to provide enough surface information for the reader to become familiar with the material but not have a full understanding of it or its full scope.
Sometimes lengthy textbooks are abridged down to a dictionary version, where detailed or explanatory information is removed and only a list of key words from the book and their definitions remain, making the book a companion concordance to the original work.
It is uncommon for abridged versions of fiction books for adults to be published for sale, but it has been done, as with a recent new translation of War and Peace.
Abridgement for television 
Very often plays, notably Shakespeare's, have been heavily abridged for television, in order to fit them into ninety-minute or two-hour time slots. (The same is true of long classical ballets such as the two-and-a-half hour The Sleeping Beauty, which has almost never been performed complete on television). This was done more often in the past than it is now (e.g. Hallmark Hall of Fame from the 1950s until about 1970). With the advent of such non-commercially sponsored PBS anthologies such as Great Performances, Live from Lincoln Center and the BBC Television Shakespeare plays, there is now less pressure to cram a three-hour-plus play like Hamlet into a two-hour time slot.
More recently, with the development of digital distribution via the internet, fan-created abridged versions of television shows have seen a rise in popularity. These productions are frequently abridged versions of well-known anime series (due to the ease with which animation can be edited), generally done for comedic purposes. These typically feature dubbing over of the original voices and may include modified or spliced-in visual content not present in the original.
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