Why has Clubhouse not Caught On in America Yet?

Clubhouse screen
A screen on Clubhouse showing which contacts you can listen to. Image sourced from Thomas Trutschel/Photothek via Getty Images

Despite going public around the same time as Corona began, in March of 2020, the new audio-based SNS app Clubhouse has only recently gained attention in the United States, but why the slow start? One unique aspect of this app is that it is invite-only. As of now, you can only join the app by receiving a prestigious invite from another user, and each new user only has two invitations to share once they set up an account.

It is in part due to this exclusivity that Clubhouse had a quiet beginning in America. As of May of 2020, the app only had around 1500 members. It did not burst into the mainstream during its early stages and was instead preferred more by investors and silicon valley businessmen. With many rooms primarily having silicon valley-related discussions, what people did manage to discover the app could only choose from a limited range of topics. When I tried asking regular people for opinions on the app, I was often met with confusion and questions like, “isn’t that a reality show or something?” Without many promotions from celebrities or influencers, awareness of the app’s existence seemed to remain low in America.

However, Elon Musk’s recent participation in the app along with Robinhood CEO Vlad Tenev threw Clubhouse into the spotlight. As invitations are just now slowly turning into prized awards that are being given out online, users in Japan are continuing to boom in numbers, but why?

Why Clubhouse Works in Japan

While you may be hard-pressed to find a friend who knows about Clubhouse in America, the app is all the buzz in Japan. Despite the app being English-only currently, rooms quickly filled with numerous celebrities who would talk amongst themselves nightly. However, rooms run by successful businessmen or celebrities are not the only kind you will find. Many rooms are filled with ordinary people with shared interests. While concepts such as English learning are spreading rapidly across the app, “silent rooms,” rooms for people to simply increase their follower count, are also popular with Japanese users.

The app is also providing a digital meeting space where people of similar interests can gather. Even during Japan’s current State of Emergency across several prefectures, the ability to quickly enter a room and meet new people with matching interests can help fight against the boredom of being a homebody. One Twitter expressed their gratitude for being able to share their hobby. They stated, “Thank you for listening to me until late. I’m really glad if you were able to gain even a little interest in horse racing! I will do my best to have fun and not lose out to Corona.”

Another Japanese user praises Clubhouse for what makes it unique. She states that the more trivial the story discussed is, the more intimate, grateful, and concerned they feel towards their listeners.

While the invite-only feature may be hurting Clubhouse’s numbers in America, it could be the very nature of an exclusive app that makes it appealing in Japan. In general, there is a tendency in Japan to associate cost and privacy with higher quality. For example, in regards to English learning in Japan, you may think offering a large, open class at a low price would be favorable to the general student, but more often than not, it is private, more expensive sessions that are preferred. This same line of thinking may make the members-only Clubhouse enticing to a Japanese audience. As of February 2, there are over 3.6 million registered users on the app.