The publisher could make a consortium and create similar software for books. Nothing about it would really be technically new or really challenging. It WOULD require them to think about future contracts, and how to charge. You will be a lot more successfully with eBooks if you charge less. The digital price point is different. By different I mean lower.
There is still billions of dollars to be made with eBooks, different strategies to getting people published and effectively infinite shelf space.
This is only a problem because publishers are loosing their monopoly on who gets published. They need to realize this is going to happen, and figure out how to be the company people buy their eBooks from. They also need to stop penalizing the consumer when the person selling a book does something wrong.
I am waiting for some established writers to say good buy to the publishing house and just sell their book online. IN fact, I can see an editing industry popping up where authors pay to have their book edited and prepared for eBook distribution. A company completely separated from publishers. Authors just put their book online through any of the new emerging channels.
The 'Butcher fiasco' should be sending a clear message to all parties involved: "Digital books are hear, and you need to stop assuming everyone is ripping you off."
Or they can just let Apple become such a power house they have to do separate negotiations for eBook with them, Just like the music companies did.