I go to my beloved feed of AP stories — rediscovered after it disappeared — and when clicking on a headline, instead of taking me to a random newspaper client, as it has been doing lately, it took me to a plain AP page that asked at the bottom whether I wanted to “purchase this AP story for reprint.” Hmmm. I haven’t seen that before.

I click and go to a page branded “Valeo Intellectual Property” and find a few options: commercial use, nonprofit use (for certified 501c3s), and personal use, to wit: “Anyone is free to make one copy for personal use. This can include one photocopy, one printed copy, one email copy, or posting an HTML link (without text or photos). This includes use by a student for an academic purpose. Click on the article title above to go back to the article. From there, you can print (or use) the content as described here.” Note that it doesn’t say anything about quoting but I choose to take that as good, as not trying to restrict fair comment.

Now I click on commercial use and this is where it gets a bit quizzical. It offers me reprints, custom reprints, PDFs, all of which is rather standard. But then, here’s the punchline, it offers to charge me to link to the story on their site: “A formatted HTML page hosted by Valeo IP that you can link to from your web site. The Instant Web E-print is guaranteed for the duration of the license. The link is available immediately.” They’re charging $175 for three months and $500 a year for this privilege.

Huh? They’re charging for a link. And because AP content disappears off the web like dew in the day, what they’re really charging for is an almost-permalink. (Sadly, most newspapers’ content also disappears behind archive walls; the grand exception is what Dave Winer got The Times to do and what Aaron Swartz maintains now: a wormhole into the archives for links to individual stories.)

This AP thing is slightly more than that because it puts your brand over their story — that’s how it’s a “reprint” — while also not allowing you to put the story on your own site. But in any case, it’s no way to get rich online and it points out one of the many ironies of the old news business in the new world.

I understand the very tough position wire services find themselves in with our dynamic, distributed world today: Once they serve one client and that client serves one story, they serve the world. And when all sources of news can be seen at once, the value of any one source declines.

When I spoke with a bunch of French journalists about blogs and all that, the AFP man asked me what the business model for wire services is and I had a simple answer: I don’t know. I told him — as I also told the AP — that it is foolish and even suicidal to do what the AFP did, pulling itself out of GoogleNews’ aggregation; in the AP’s case, if they did that, they’d be taking traffic away from their own members. And meanwhile, Reuters is ramping up to create a consumer news service, which will love links and traffic to its pages and ads. I link to news off the AP RSS feed all the time, but I wish those links would not die. In this game, the one who gets the links wins. The one who takes his marbles and goes home behind the fence loses.

And what happens when the wire services and their affiliates aren’t the only creators, collectors, and aggregators of news? Then it gets even muddier.

Just remember this: In this new world, links are currency. Links grant authority. Links build branding. Links equal value.