Music and movie aficionados can unearth a treasure trove of exotic products on foreign shores. The trick, though, is to be aware of what you're getting -- and to make sure it's the best deal possible. So, all you culture mavens who love scouring entertainment bins worldwide, here's what you need to know.
CDs are universal: You can buy a CD anywhere in the world and play it at home, and doing your homework can help you avoid paying more than you should for certain releases. New CDs in Europe average €15 to €17, which equals approximately $21 to $25. Japanese CDs are more expensive. Before you leave for your trip, or if possible at your hotel, check out websites like Amazon, CD Universe, Deep Discount, and CMdistro.com (for fans of heavy metal) to see if they have better deals on the titles you want. That said, if you're looking for country-specific acts like Rosenstolz in Germany, the B'z in Japan, or Grégory Lemarchal in France, you're more likely to get a better deal in their homeland (at least in European countries) rather than buying imports online, which can cost between $25 and $40. Plus, older catalog titles overseas will also probably cost less.
DVDs are not universal: There are six regions for DVDs around the world, mainly to combat piracy. So, unless you own an all-region player (which retail for as little as $80) or know how to hack your DVD player to convert it to all-region, be careful if a DVD is not listed as Region 0 (all players) or Region 1 (United States). Your PC, on the other hand, should be able to play discs from any country, assuming it plays DVDs at all. It's a general rule of thumb that if a country sells domestic titles in its original language, you probably won't easily find them at home. Granted, many Spanishlanguage titles have recently made their way to the States, as have foreign-film winners and candidates for the Oscars, but there is a world of viewing in other countries that's not available here. Once again, a quick online search can help you determine availability.
Vinyl lives on: Yes, LPs are alive and well, and you can find them everywhere. The chance to track down overseas releases with different covers, track order, and even different songs makes it fun to hunt for vinyl. But remember, records are much heavier and more fragile to pack, so either choose judiciously or, if money is no object, think about sending some home with an international shipper (e.g., FedEx, UPS). It won't be cheap, but it will be worth it when your precious vinyls arrive in one piece.
Primo condition? A word of warning when purchasing music and movies overseas -- many of the containers will be open, whether the product is new or used. Only the packaging is in the bins, and the discs are stored behind the counter (this almost always applies to music). Ask to inspect any unwrapped CDs and DVDs before purchasing them so you can be sure they are not scratched. If you have a laptop or a portable CD player, it might also be good to test the discs once you buy them, just to make sure they aren't defective. Better to know now than to wait until you're home and can't do anything about it.
Dig the Bins of these Entertainment Emporiums
A&B Sound (Alberta and British Columbia, Canada):
Small chain with reasonable prices and a good catalog, particularly for Canadian albums you can't get in the States.
Cover Schallplatten (Berlin, Germany):
If you're looking for CDs, live DVDs, calendars, T-shirts, and 30,000-plus 45s (old-school singles), then you must discover Cover. Kurfürstendamm 11
El Corte Inglés (Spain):
This department store has a surprisingly diverse catalog with some good sale prices.
A British mini-chain, Fopp has a great selection -- from Black Sabbath to Tangerine Dream -- of budget-priced CDs (many at $10) that are cheaper than in the States.
Free Record Shop (Belgium, Netherlands, and Norway):
A pretty good mix of music and movies at standard prices. Lots of homeland releases as well. (But no, it's not really free.)
Media Markt (Belgium, France, Germany, Greece, Hungary, Italy, Poland, Portugal, Russia, Spain, and Sweden):
This massive chain offers a good selection of mainstream fare.
Music & Video Exchange (England):
Looking for CDs, vinyl, DVDs, and VHS? Dive into the eclectic bins at any of this store's locations, with numerous spots in London, including six offshoots in Notting Hill that deal in specific genres.
The store has more than 1,000 locations, so you’re bound to find one. Yeah, it’s a megachain, but they’re superconvenient.
World of Music (Germany):
Kind of like the German version of Tower, they are stocked full of music, movies, and magazines. New CDs can be pricey, but their back catalog is good.