What’s a Blu-ray?
A Blu-ray is an optical disc that’s capable of holding around five to ten times as much information as a DVD. This huge increase in capacity allows for the movie on a Blu-ray disc to be much more detailed than it would be on a DVD. This dramatic upgrade in quality becomes easier to see as the size of the screen that the Blu-ray is being watched upon increases.
What’s region coding?
During the heyday of DVD, countries were divided into regions as a way for rights holders to try to control where their movies could be seen (the U.S. was/is in Region 1, Region 2 includes France, and so on). DVD players sold in those regions are usually locked so they can only play discs that are either from that region or region free. For Blu-rays, there are three regional categories. The United States is part of Region A; European countries like England and Germany are in Region B, whereas Region C includes places like Russia and India.
Is it possible to watch a disc from another region?
Yes. Historically, if one wanted to watch a disc that was coded for a different region, they needed to have a multi-region (or region free) DVD player. Region free DVD players have typically come in two varieties: those with aftermarket modifications (often in the form of downloaded software or hardware that’s been installed inside the player) and those that were created with a built-in way to change regions, such as a secret code that can be punched in with the press of a few remote control buttons.
As with DVD players, nearly all American Blu-ray players sold at retail are Region A locked. Therefore, in order for someone in the U.S. with a Region A locked Blu-ray player to watch a Blu-ray disc, that disc must be Region A compatible. However, as with DVD players there are a wide variety of Blu-ray players that have been modified so they can play Blu-ray discs that are not Region A compatible. Foreign Exchange Blu-ray Imports offers a small selection of these players, and can point those seeking a wider variety in the direction of an online seller that offers dozens of multi-region Blu-ray players of varying brands, features, and prices.
I don’t have a multi-region player, and can’t see myself getting one anytime soon. Should I even bother with your shop?
Of course! Luckily, not all discs released in non-Region A territories are region locked. 4xblu carries lots of discs from traditionally Region B locked territories such as England and France whose feature films will play on your Region A locked Blu-ray player. Additionally, because numerous Asian territories like Japan, Korea, Hong Kong, and Taiwan are also part of Region A, there are plenty of import options for those who remain region locked. In fact, many of Foreign Exchange’s most frequent customers are folks who don’t have multi-region players!
Oh, so Foreign Exchange just sells a bunch of foreign movies, then, right?
Just because the discs are foreign doesn’t mean that the movies are, too! In fact, on any given day approximately half of the shop’s inventory is made up of movies that were either made in America or by American filmmakers. A quick browse of 4xblu’s shelves will reveal stars like Denzel Washington, Scarlett Johansson, Bill Murray, Will Smith, and Natalie Portman, as well as films by American directors like Martin Scorsese, David Lynch, and the Coen Brothers.
Do you do online sales?
From the time that the shop opened until the launch of 4xblu.com, Foreign Exchange Blu-ray Imports was strictly a brick & mortar store. However, now that this site is up and running the time has come to offer online sales. Clicking the Online Shop link in the menu above will take you to 4xblu.com’s online store. There, you’ll be able to browse a selection of titles available to online buyers and place orders that can be shipped to where you to live (provided that you live in the United States… for now).
How do I create an account?
When you’ve found one or more items that you want to buy, add them to your cart and then view the Cart page. Once you’ve clicked “Proceed to Checkout,” you’ll be asked to provide the info necessary to create an account.
I clicked on the Online Shop link and, well… I have to say that I was a bit underwhelmed by the selection. Is that all there is?
The titles currently listed in the online shop are a tiny fraction of the brick & mortar shop’s inventory. Here’s why: 4xblu’s owner is a movie lover first and a businessman second, with webmaster and E-tailer coming in distant third and fourth places. Since he’s completely new to online sales, he knows it’s going to be a learning process in which he’ll inevitably make some mistakes. By initially keeping the online selection small and very basic, he’s hoping that those inevitable mistakes are as small and inexpensive as possible. With time, the goal is to build an online inventory that matches the shop’s in-store selection and is available to movie lovers across America and around the world.
What is your refund / return policy for online sales?
If 4xblu accidentally sends you the wrong title, then as long as the title’s packaging remains sealed you can mail it back and receive either a refund on your initial purchase or (if it’s still in stock) the title that was originally ordered. You will also be reimbursed up to $3 for the cost of sending the title back. If return shipping is more than $3, please contact 4xblu for approval of reimbursement greater than $3. Unapproved return shipments with a cost greater than $3 will not receive additional reimbursement.
Can I pre-order a title?
Not in the way that you would preorder a title at a typical online retailer. If the shop has ordered a title and it’s en route, you can then contact the shop and ask that it be pulled for you when the title arrives. 4xblu reserves the right to not pull a title if it’s a highly anticipated arrival that’s a new addition to the shop’s inventory. However, if it’s a restock and/or you’re the first person to ask about having a title pulled, then chances are good that the shop will be able to accomodate you.
Can I request a title?
Certainly! Whenever someone suggests a title to the shop, a process begins where research is done to determine its viability. If the suggestion checks out, 4xblu will often attempt to contact the person who made the request and try to give them a ballpark idea of how much the title is going to cost. If the requester wants to buy the disc, then the shop will pull the title when it arrives and give them a couple of days to come by and pick it up. If the requester fails to come by and pick up the title after a prolonged period of time, the shop reserves the right to put it out for sale to the rest of the shop’s customers. That said, this scenario hasn’t happened yet (and, knock on wood, hopefully never will).
Also worth mentioning: sometimes the requester won’t actually be in the market for a title, and is simply suggesting it because they think it’d make a good addition to the shop’s inventory. This is perfectly fine; it’s happened before and will certainly happen again. It sure helps to know that there will be at least one buyer in place for a new addition before ordering it, though.
What are some of the reasons why the shop would turn down a request?
There are many, but the primary ones are:
1.) Lack of Info: if there’s a dearth of information about a release — say, there are no online reviews or even forum posts that cover basic details such as audio / video quality, region coding, and English friendliness (namely, the lack of English subtitles on foreign language films or the imposition of forced subtitles on films with English audio) — then it makes ordering exceedingly risky. Before 4xblu can place an order for a title, a threshold of certitude about the title’s commercial viability has to be met.
2.) Quality / Technical Limitations: perhaps the disc has been poorly reviewed, or has flaws that the requester might not have been aware of. Also, particularly in the case of European television programs, it could contain 1080i/50 content. Depending on what kind of television and Blu-ray player one has, 1080i/50 material might not play on their home setups. Therefore, Foreign Exchange tries not to carry discs with this kind of content.
3.) Price: this is more likely to delay the fulfillment of a request than cause an outright denial. Typically speaking, the price of a title will be at its highest upon initial release and then gradually decline over time. Therefore, since the price that 4xblu charges is largely based on an average of how much each copy of a title costs at the time it was ordered, it’s better to wait a few months before placing that initial order so subsequent copies aren’t saddled with the high cost of that first batch.
4.) Current Domestic Availibility (Standalone): The vast majority of the shop’s titles are unavailable domestically on Blu-ray. That said, there are a handful of titles (“The 36th Chamber of Shaolin,” “Madame de…”) whose overseas editions are perceived as being so vastly superior to the American versions that the shop can stock them without fear of the U.S. releases cutting into their commercial viability. That said, merely bettering the American version isn’t always sufficient cause for inclusion in the shop’s inventory. The margin, as perceived by the shop’s owner, has to be substantial.
5.) Current Domestic Availability (Box Sets)
Often times, the work of a popular director (such as Godard, Satyajit Ray, or Fassbinder) will be released in a box set overseas. The extent to which the box set’s titles are (or are expected to be) available in viable domestic releases, as well as whether there are standalone import discs of the titles in the set, goes a long way toward determining whether 4xblu will order the box. An example: roughly half of the films in BFI’s Herzog box are available as part of Shout Factory’s domestic Herzog box. However, because there’s little perceived likelihood of the other half getting stateside releases, Foreign Exchange Blu carries the BFI set. Another example: Artificial Eye’s Satyajit Ray’s box. Since three of the five titles in this set are already on Blu-ray in the U.S. and the other two have standalone British releases, 4xblu carries the two standalone discs and doesn’t sell the box. Lastly, there’s Studio Canal’s British Godard box set. Since three of the five titles in this set already have American Blu-ray releases, and the other two (“Alphaville” and “A Woman is a Woman”) were released on DVD by Criterion and are widely expected to get domestic Blu-ray releases, 4xblu does not carry this set. If “Alphaville” and “A Woman is a Woman” were to get standalone foreign releases, then the likelihood is high that the shop would carry them.
6.) Future Domestic Availability: Another factor is the likelihood of a future domestic release. For instance, if Criterion puts out a newsletter clue indicating that a title is on the way, the shop will almost certainly not order its foreign counterpart (at least until, as was the case with “Madame de,” there is considerable interest in the foreign edition based on perceived flaws of the domestic version). Yet another consideration is if the domestic rights for a requested title are with a studio that has a deal with an American label who is actively releasing their films. One such case is the recent barrage of Fox titles put out by Kino Lorber and Twilight Time, which has made ordering imports of Fox films a perilous enterprise. Consequently, the shop has transitioned to a strategy of selling through its remaining inventory of Fox titles and, going forward, elected to steer clear of 20th Century Fox films until these deals have been exhausted.
Sometimes you say title and sometimes you say disc. What’s the difference, and what’s the point of making the distinction?
The Japanese Blu-ray of David Lynch’s “The Straight Story” contains one film on a single disc. BFI’s Blu-ray of Ousmane Sembene’s “Black Girl” / “Borom Sarret” contains two films on one disc. Artificial Eye’s “Classic Bergman” holds five movies on five discs. Each of these counts as a single title, regardless of the number of movies contained on that title’s disc(s). Therefore, if there’s a “take a dollar off of each title” promotion, the discount would be for each title, not each movie or each disc.
Your prices are, in many cases, surprisingly low — remarkably low for a brick and mortar store. How can you afford it?
1.) Bulk Purchases: For you, as a consumer, the choice when ordering from a place like Japan is to either a.) pay an exorbitant amount for shipping or b.) mitigate the shipping costs by only ordering after you’ve come up with eight (or ten, or twelve…) items that you want. Since 4xblu isn’t just ordering for one person, it can do things (like ordering three copies of a single title) that most individuals wouldn’t, which makes buying 10-12 items and spreading those shipping costs around much, much easier.
2.) “Daytrading”: One of the ways that 4xblu is able to offer such reasonable prices is because the shop’s owner spends a disturbing amount of each day obsessively clicking through bookmarks in search of Blu-rays whose prices are at or near their historical lows. You have a life, so leave the bargain hunting to Foreign Exchange.
3.) Low Overhead: Between the shop’s relatively low rent and the fact 4xblu’s owner / lone employee pays himself as little as possible, Foreign Exchange is able to keep its costs down and pass the savings on to you.
4.) Selling in Volume: Rather than trying to gouge its customers (most of whom know what the shop’s inventory typically goes for online and wouldn’t be suckered, anyhow), 4xblu believes it’s better to sell three times as much product at one-third the mark-up than the other way around.
You started a company that sells physical media. In 2015. What in the world were you thinking?!?
It really just depends on how you look at it. If your sense of the state of physical media is based on the average number of square feet allocated for Blu-ray discs in your typical Best Buy store, or whether the number of titles that sold a million copies is up or down as compared to the previous year, then yes, it’s easy to see how you could think opening a shop like Foreign Exchange Blu-ray Imports might not have been the best idea for a business. On the other hand, when you see all of the small labels that have sprung up over the past couple of years — companies whose seeming ability to turn a profit on sales as low as a thousand copies per title (which has, in turn, inspired more folks to join their ranks) — then you can’t help but feel that physical media (and, by extension, Blu-ray) isn’t dying, but rather transforming in a way that more accurately reflects the tastes and desires of those that support these labels and their efforts. It’s not as if Criterion, or Kino Lorber, or Twilight Time, or Masters of Cinema, or Arrow, or Shout Factory, or Blue Underground, or Vinegar Syndrome, or any of the dozens of other labels putting out these discs appears to be going anywhere. If the demand remains then they’ll continue to put out product and sellers like 4xblu will continue to have inventory to stock for their customers.