Walmart ebooks are the plot twist Amazon didn't expect

It would seem that Apple isn't the only one looking to shake up the ebooks scene. Walmart, as odd as it may seem at first blush, announced today that it will begin offering ebooks in the US as well. It won't be doing this alone, either, as it'll be backed by Rakuten, an e-commerce company operating out of Japan.

This partnership means new things are coming to both Japan and the US. In Japan, Walmart and Rakuten are working out a joint venture for online grocery delivery. Here in the US, on the other hand, Walmart will leverage Kobo, Rakuten's digital book arm, to offer ebooks and audiobooks to its customers.

Walmart likens this new service to VUDU, which it already uses as a vehicle for digital movies. This doesn't mean that physical books are going away either; instead, Walmart envisions a future where you'll search for a book on its website and have the option of having a physical book shipped to you or getting the instant gratification we all love by purchasing the ebook or audiobook version instead of a physical copy.

That digital content will be delivered via an app that carries both Walmart and Kobo branding, which will arrive later this year. You'll be able to access the ebooks and audiobooks you buy via that app on iOS or Android, though Walmart will also release a desktop app and begin selling Kobo ereaders in its stores. We'll see Walmart roll out ebooks first, followed by audiobooks later on in the year (though there are no specific dates for either launch at this point).

Just yesterday, we heard that Apple is planning to revamp its iBooks app on iOS, with a renewed focus on challenging the dominance of Amazon in the ebook and audiobook space. It's clear that Walmart wants to make the same challenge, but both companies have their work cut out for them, because Amazon is far and away the largest seller of ebooks in the United States. We'll see if Walmart's strategy is worth any significant portion of market share later this year, so stay tuned.