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Elusive iMac slowly turning up online

It may take time, but the stylish new Apple machine is findable at some e-tailers--and the low supply and high demand aren't driving up the price that much.

You might have to search a bit, but you can find Apple Computer's new iMac online--and you might not have to pay much more than the retail price.

Hit with outsized demand and a shortage of 15-inch LCD (liquid crystal display) flat panels, the stylish new computer has been hard to come by online or in stores since its January debut. While Apple is warning customers that orders placed through its online store will take three to seven weeks to ship, a few of the iMacs are starting to trickle onto online retail sites such as and eBay.

However, those iMacs that have made it to auction aren't fetching the same premium as past in-demand hardware such as Microsoft's Xbox or Sony's PlayStation 2. One explanation may be that despite the wait, few consumers are willing to pay a premium for the new machine.

Charlotte, N.C., resident Mike Trotman, for instance, said he was shopping on eBay for a good bargain on an iMac, but when prices started to go above retail, he started looking at other sites. Trotman bought an iMac from Amazon on Friday and got an iPod MP3 player and a warranty plan for about $2,300--not much more than some of the iMacs were selling for on eBay.

"I probably would not have bid more than $2,000," he said. "I'm not one of those people that has more money than patience."

Although Amazon and retailer had the iMacs in stock Friday, the machines were not easily found at other online stores. The Web stores for CompUSA and J&R Computer World, for instance, said they were out of stock. Meanwhile, other online Apple dealers such as Maczone asked customers to call in to find out about availability.

Some Apple dealers have charged that the company is shortchanging them to stock the shelves at Apple's own stores. But Apple has consistently had problems meeting demand for hot new products and has faced similar problems with its original iMac in 1998. As with the current iMac, Apple customers jumped to Web stores and online auction sites to find the original.

eBay has 339 items listed in its Apple iMac category. But most of the items are for speakers, apparel or keyboards, not the actual computers. A search for "new iMac" turns up less than a dozen of the machines themselves.

Meanwhile, none of the new machines are listed for sale on auction site uBid or on the auction areas at Amazon or Yahoo.

Brandon Smith, who lives in Atlanta, is selling an iMac on eBay. Smith said he ordered the machine on the day it was introduced and has been using it for about a month. Although the machine is a "neato toy," Smith said, he's had problems with its networking capabilities and says he wants to get a faster machine.

"The newness has worn off, and the performance isn't what I had hoped for," Smith said. "I try to keep up with the Joneses. I get the newest and latest thing and then turn around and sell it and try to get as much as I can out of it."

But he may not get much this time around. The new iMacs have been selling for between $1,400 and $2,400 on eBay over the last 15 days. The retail price for the machines ranges from about $1,300 to $1,800, depending on the specifications.

In contrast, eBay users bid up to three times the retail price for the PlayStation 2 when it first came out. And many paid nearly twice as much for the Xbox and GameCube when they debuted.

Several eBay bidders said that like Trotman, they are searching eBay for a bargain and can afford to wait for the new iMac. Stephen Zavall of Oakland, Calif., for instance, said he would love to get one of the top-of-the-line iMacs for about $1,600.

"I only look to eBay for a good price," Zavall said. "If the price gets too close to retail, I'll patronize my local retailers."