Who are the highest paid YouTube stars?

There are a dozen YouTube channels that earned at least $2.5 million this past year. About half of the top 10 are comedy acts, while the rest include channels for video game commentators, a violinist, a pastry chef, and a makeup artist. 

Shohei Miyano
A woman walks in front of a logo of YouTube at the YouTube Space Tokyo, operated by Google, in Tokyo February 14, 2013.

Who knew a webcam could become such an investment?

According to Forbes, there are a dozen YouTubers who are raking in at least $2.5 million a year through their online video channels. The financial magazine reports they are the world’s highest paid YouTube stars. At the top is 25-year-old Felix Kjellberg, who made an estimated $12 million before taxes and management fees last year.

On the list of the video site’s top 10 highest-earning channels, half are comedians and the rest are known for a wide array of expertise. Together, they earned about $55 million for the year ending June 1, 2015 from preview advertisements, sponsored content, book deals, and even their own product lines.

Forbes estimated the earnings through data from IMDB, Nielson, and other industry sources. The publication also drew from interviews with managers, agents, and of course, the YouTube stars themselves.

With nearly 40 million subscribers, Mr. Kjellberg, a Swedish vlogger who goes by the username PewDiePie, makes his fortune playing and commentating on video games. Next up, earning $8.5 million each, second place is tied between two comedy duos: Ian Hecox and Anthony Padilla of Smosh, and Benny and Rafi Fine of Fine Brothers.

With almost five billion views, Smosh is famous for live-action skits and gained initial fame from a grainy lip-sync skit to the Pokémon theme song. In July, the best friends from California released their first full-length movie, “Smosh: The Movie.”

Though not as popular as Smosh, the Fine brothers make up for it in their acclaim. The filmmakers won a Daytime Emmy Award for their React video series and adapted their web series into a Nickelodeon show in 2014.

Fourth on the list is Lindsey Stirling, a performer famous for her artful multitasking – she plays the violin while dancing. The 29-year-old launched her channel in 2007 after being turned down for a record deal. Since then, she’s released two albums on her own and is working on a book. She earned $6 million last year. 

“It’s a very loyal fan base [that] wants you to succeed because they found you,” Stirling told Forbes. “It wasn’t some big radio station or record label that shoved art down someone’s throat and said this is what’s cool.”

Fifth place is a tie between video commentator Olajide Olatunji, and Rhett McLaughlin and Charles Lincoln Neal III of Rhett and Link. The former recently kickstarted his rap career, with his debut single “Lamborghini” making it on the British top 50 charts in April. The latter curate a morning news show and make up the oldest pair on the list – McLaughlin is 38 and Link is 37.

Michelle Phan, seventh on the list for making $3 million last year, may be one of the most famous out of the 10 channels. The makeup artist is one of the few vloggers with multiple products, including a cosmetics line and a monthly makeup-subscription service.

Finally, three stars tie for tenth with $2.5 million apiece: chef Rosanna Pansino, comedian Lilly Singh, and professional prankster Roman Atwood.

YouTube has more than one billion users and generates billions of views every day. Since it was founded in 2005, the video platform has grown at a 60 percent rate every year in terms of watch time.

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