Apple sale! All Macs must go! — Update

[UPDATE: Apple has published its Black Friday sale prices, and while the savings on MacBooks and iPods are in line with last year’s, there are steep discounts — 50% and more — on third party products. The resellers, meanwhile, are offering unually steep price cuts. See MacRumors, AppleInsider and Gizmodo for some of the best bargains. To see what shoppers ended up buying over the first weekend of holiday sales, see Apple’s Black Friday bestsellers.]

You know times are tight when even Steve Jobs starts cutting prices.

Apple (AAPL), which keeps the tightest reins on list prices in the business, seems to have loosened them significantly this holiday season. Authorized resellers who normally wouldn’t dare chop a nickel off Apple’s suggested retail are cutting prices, offering rebates and plastering the Web with gaudy ads.

By Wednesday morning, the white MacBook that still lists for $999 on the Apple Store was selling for $899.99 at BestBuy, $899.95 at B&H Photo, $899.00 at Amazon and $868.99 at Club Mac and Mac Mall.

Apple store managers, meanwhile, are offering to match any advertised price — a policy they quietly followed in the past but now openly acknowledge. (see here)

And has posted a pea-green teaser for a one-day Black Friday shopping event that promises unspecified bargains for shoppers willing to brave the crowds the day after Thanksgiving. Kaufman Bros. analyst Shaw Wu predicts Apple could be offering discounts of up to 15% on Macs, iPods and accessories, compared with 5%-10% in previous years. (see here)

It’s not a price war worthy of Crazie Eddie Antar, but it’s more retail aggressiveness than we’ve seen from Apple, which usually keeps its resellers on a short leash and limits its sales to Black Friday, Back to School and the occasional close-out.

We knew retailers were hurting this year. Now even Cupertino seems to be getting nervous.

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