Britons are leaving their books to gather dust on the shelves in favour of surfing the internet.

Researchers have found that web-surfing is having a devastating effect on the hours we normally spend reading books and newspapers.

Although Britons without PCs spent more hours per week reading than their European counterparts, this figure dropped by a third after they bought a computer — the biggest fall seen in any European country.

UK subjects said they used to spend an average of 10.1 hours per week reading before they had a computer. However this figure plummeted to an average of just 6.9 hours after they bought a PC.

A spokeswoman for The European Institute of Home Computing, run by computer firm NEC, which conducted the research said: "People in all countries told us they were reading fewer books, magazines and newspapers."

But Sydney Davis, trade and industry manager for the Bookseller's Association said he was not concerned by the figures.

"Books are one of the biggest products sold on the internet. Sites like have opened up a whole new market for them and you can find many rare titles on the web that were previously hard to get hold of," he said.

Davis pointed to figures from the Publisher's Association that showed the British consumer book market was worth around £2.2bn.

But although the value of the book market has grown, numbers of book sales have barely increased and sales of reference titles, which provide much of the same information people access the internet for, have collapsed.

The web could also be having a detrimental effect on the nation's health. The European Institute of Home Computing survey showed that people in all countries spent fewer hours playing sport as a result of buying a computer.

People in the UK also spend more time listening to music after buying a PC, mainly because of the increasing popularity of online file sharing.

The survey shows that the most popular use by far for home PCs is surfing the web, which accounted for 21.4 percent of people’s total use of their PCs. The next most popular activities were email, at 15.4 percent, and games with 13.7 percent.