Exaggeration is not necessary.
It was in a letter of 1897, about his cousin James Ross Clemens, that Mark Twain famously noted that "the report of my death was an exaggeration." He managed to hang on, despite his critics, for another thirteen years. Times were slower then. I suspect that the death of the book will occur more rapidly, though the small corpses will be with us for a bit longer.
What is poorly understood here is actually a very practical matter. We have lost the steel industry in America, once the largest such in the world by far, in less than 40 years. That took place for very practical reasons. But if you had said such a thing was possible in 1960, you would have been looked at as a fool. And General Motors is too big to fail... right? It may not be as visible from 30,000 feet, but a car trip through Detroit, or Buffalo, or any of a hundred great American industrial cities will tell you how quickly things can change.
The printing industry is just that, an industry, though miniscule by comparison to the making of steel. And this goes for publishing as well. Is there any reason for the center of publishing to remain in New York — one of the most expensive places a poor author must visit? Not now. Not in the age of the internet.
Even with a still small and captured market, the downloading of books onto Kindles and the like is already a half-priced convenience. But what will it be like in a few years? Even the machine that is a "reader" will be made somewhere far, far away from New York.
In an age of digital ease and the reduced "cost" of those ephemeral 0s and 1s, can you think of a compelling reason why "publishers" will promote the work of "authors" who ask for too much? The need will be for product. The publicity and marketing departments have long ago assumed control of the editorial reasoning for what will be acceptable at the larger publishing houses.
Those same publishers who dominate what you can find at Walmart and Costco (or any of the other 'convenience' stores that make the existence of independent bookstores a daily struggle) are not in business to lose money. And, like the pulp authors of the 1920s and '30s, working in a medium which had then used technology to reduce the cost of publishing to a bare minimum, the price per word will fall even for the most popular authors. Can you tell me why those same publishers will want to keep alive a format which they consider too expensive and too difficult to distribute relative to a nearly instant electronic impulse?
But I know this. That what happens to the reader engaged by the artful nuance of typography on a paper page while exploring the imagination of a single writer is not the same as the collision of visual information offered by the illusions on a digital screen.
I know this, that reading a book is an experience of human scale, not only proportioned to the hand but to the mind. It was made that way by the genius of Aldus Manutius and Wynkyn de Worde and tens of thousands of artisans and artists, writers, and even editors (yes, even editors) who came after them.
And I know this. That if I find the original edition of a book, it is at least what the author meant it to be, or nearly so in that contest between an author's accepting payment and the need to pay for a meal or a bed. What you find on the screen is only what is convenient.
And this: those 3 1/2-inch floppies you kept all that poetry on which you wrote in college won't work on that laptop you bought last week. And what you have on that flash drive you carry on a string around your neck will be an artifact as useful as the tooth your ancestor once wore the same way.
You must understand this: everything we know as a civilization, good and bad, will soon be an Aleph that even Borges could not imagine. And it can and will be lost in an instant.
It will be a practical matter.