An audiobook or a talking book is a recording of a book or other work being read out loud. A reading of the complete text is described as “unabridged”, while readings of a shorter version are an abridgement.
Spoken audio has been available in schools and public libraries and to a lesser extent in music shops since the 1930s. Many spoken word albums were made prior to the age of cassettes, compact discs, and downloadable audio, often of poetry and plays rather than books. It was not until the 1980s that the medium began to attract book retailers, and then book retailers started displaying audiobooks on bookshelves rather than in separate displays.
Spoken word recordings first became possible with the invention of the phonograph by Thomas Edison in 1877. “Phonographic books” were one of the original applications envisioned by Edison which would “speak to blind people without effort on their part.” The initial words spoken into the phonograph were Edison’s recital of “Mary Had a Little Lamb”, the first instance of recorded verse. In 1878, a demonstration at the Royal Institution in Britain included “Hey Diddle Diddle, the Cat and the Fiddle” and a line of Tennyson’s poetry thus establishing from the very beginning of the technology its association with spoken literature.