Spanish university students buy an average of 1.9 books a year and 42 per cent did not buy a single text or reference book last year, according to a poll by the Spanish Federation of Publishers (FGEE).
"We knew that things weren't good, but we didn't expect quite such a bad result," said Joaqu!n D!az, the co-ordinator of academic publishing at FGEE.
He estimated that his publishing house might have printed 3,500 copies of an academic title ten years ago, but said it would be lucky to have a run of 1,000 today.
In the study 1,500 students and 350 lecturers were asked why students did not buy books. Students said that books were too expensive (42.3 per cent), not necessary (20.1 per cent) or available in the library (18.6 per cent).
Others said they got by with their own class notes or those supplied by lecturers, or that they photocopied parts of books.
Lecturers said that students studied too many subjects (38.8 per cent), that there was no need to read books to pass many subjects (26.4 per cent) and that students photocopied chapters but did not read entire books (37.8 per cent).
Mr D!az said the findings pointed to wider problems within higher education: an overloaded curriculum means students spend a short time on each subject and overcrowding leaves lecturers little time for individual students.
He was particularly concerned about students' preference for class notes and extracts over entire books. "They are looking for the minimum amount of information to pass," he said. "It is a question of attitude. The system is not capable of encouraging people to go deeply into their subjects."
The FGEE study suggests libraries could compensate for the reluctance to buy books, but students see things differently.
Libraries are seen primarily as places to study by 57 per cent of students.
"They want a comfortable place to study and usually bring their own material," said Carmen Fernandez-Galiano, a committee member of Spain's University Library Network.