ETA: Please note various corrections Jim has generously provided in the comments. It is worth noting that the problematic bindings do appear to loosen up to a state of reasonable lay-flatness, with use, and that the dust covers are holding up just fine. (these remarks will make sense in context, I promise)
In the comments under Ming's "I am making a book" post, this link has been offered up. It gives a really interesting parallax view into the world of making your own book. His process is absolutely, diametrically, opposed to pretty much everything I have done.
The summary, as I read it, is that Jim Kasson had some money available and decided to have an edition of 1000 books printed up. Very nice books. He probably spent in the general area of $100,000 on this, which may seem foolish but I am damned if I can think of a much better way to spend a spare $100,000. But the story is a bit fraught.
Jim hires a book designer he likes, and finds a press that he likes. The design is awesome. Then Jim spends a great deal of time fussing with color and formatting. It turns out that many of his pictures have a lot of what he perceives as important color that is out of gamut for the press and paper he's selected. So he spends a lot of time culling and then re-editing pictures both for crop and color.
It is the cropping that ultimately leads to a lot of trouble. He and his designer decide that they need to print things across the gutter, which means they want a more or less lay-flat binding, which the bindery used by the selected press basically cannot do reliably. There's a lot of discussion and fussing with dummy books, and sometimes the bindery gets it right and sometimes they don't. They promise to get it right on the order of 1000 books, and they do not. Well, that sucks. Ultimately, I suspect that the spines loosened up under use and the books looked OK.
Don't print across the gutter if you care about what your pictures look like. If your photos are content-driven, you might be OK as long as content isn't getting lost in the gutter, but it's still not a great solution. I am surprised that Jim's designer did not suggest that they walk away from the bindery somewhere in this process. Lay-flat bindings are not rocket science.
One other minor point. Jim wants the cadillac book, so he orders up french folded dust covers, which are a nice touch. Then he notes, somewhat pedantically, that there's a sharp-folded corner that might catch on things, or something, and asks what the press can do about it. This is the answer they came up with which I got to say I hate. The die cut rounded corner puts a sharp point into the cutout region, pretty much guaranteeing that under any sort of use the dust cover will tear along the crease. Sharp points concentrate stress.
From where I sit, this is actually a "tell" and suggests that perhaps it's time to find a new press. These guys may be great at smearing pigment on paper, but they're pretty bad at paper handling.
Anyways, let's put my experiences with doing blurb books, and hand binding books, together with Jim's story, and see what we can discover.
This first and most obvious thing is that it will pay you will to shoot with your book in mind, rather than trying to fit an already extant project into a book. If your print shapes are all over the place, it's going to be tough, no way around it. This is the root of Jim's big problem, the across-the-gutter pictures that he needs. There's just no way this looks good. Best case, you have a crease in the middle of your picture, worst case you have a bunch of glue and string and the picture all jammed into a dank valley because the book won't open enough.
Interestingly, as the problems with the binding unfold, one thing we do not see Jim doing is taking apart the dummy books that exhibit problems in the binding. I'd have had them apart in 10 minutes, and I would have known what the problem was.
I'm not blaming Jim at all, here, but I didn't find his story surprising. He jumped into the deep end, without really knowing what he was doing.
Let's say you're planning to do something similar, you've got a pile of money burning a hole in your pocket and you can't wait to fill your garage up with books.
First, buy a "build your own journal" kit from some source, such as Hollander's in Ann Arbor, and build it. Read Artemis BonaDea's definitive (and free! just google it!) book on conservation book repair, and take some books apart. It will be fun, and you'll learn a lot. Cost you $100 and a dozen hours.
Do some books on blurb, mypublisher, whatever. If you're working with an independent designer, do a book with them. Blurb, at least, has an InDesign plugin. Yes, these places have a very shallow design palette. Make your designer show you what they can do anyways. And, more importantly, get used to the process of working with the designer, of selected and sequencing photos, of proofreading, writing, laying out. Whether you're working with or without a designer, these are all things you'll be doing on the "real" book eventually. Cost you a few hundred bucks and a few dozen hours (plus whatever the designer costs -- a lot more than that, if they're any good, but still cheap at the price).
Now you actually know something about books, both how they're built, how they're written, laid out, designed, printed. You've invested a relatively tiny amount of money and a small amount of time.
Now go find a printer and a bindery. You now, perhaps, know enough to lean on them harder and fire them if need be. If there's one thing clear in Jim's story is that he does not know enough, and if relying primarily on his designer and the printer for guidance at every step. He's learning as he goes, bleeding fistfuls of money at every stage.
Whether he could have gotten a better book, I don't know. Maybe this really is as good as it gets, and the best you can hope for is to have 1 or 2 fairly serious issues with the final product. Still, Jim might have saved some money or time, and certainly would have had a better personal experience if he'd gotten into the process with more knowledge up front.