Top YouTube Stars Using Online Success to Launch Careers

Forbes has compiled its first-ever list of the world’s highest-paid YouTube stars. To appear in the ranking, Internet celebrities had to make at least $2.5 million in earnings for the year ending June 1, 2015. The top 13 DIY videomakers, most under the age of 30, have earned a combined total of $54.5 million. The group includes gamers, singers, comedy teams, pranksters, a beauty blogger and a dancing violinist. While most make their revenue from online advertising, some are also branching out into traditional media such as film, TV, music and publishing.

Not surprisingly, the top-ranked YouTube star is 25-year-old Felix Kjellberg (aka PewDiePie), who earned $12 million pretax over the past year. The popular Swede is famous for his videos featuring commentary as he plays videogames, and advertisers pay to showcase their products in his videos.

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“Most of their earnings comes from advertisements — both sponsored, integrated content and the pesky, inescapable previews — but some of these stars are diversifying into the television, movie and music industries,” reports Forbes.

“The publishing industry has been especially welcoming to these stars: Four have books out or in the pipeline. A few have their own product lines, selling everything from beanies and underwear to eyeliner and lip-gloss.”

Smosh, featuring childhood friends Ian Hecox and Anthony Padilla, made $8.5 million for the year. The duo runs five YouTube channels and “Smosh: The Movie” was released in July. Benny and Rafi Fine — the Fine Brothers — also earned $8.5 million, and launched their show “React to That” on Nickelodeon (they also won a special Daytime Emmy in 2012 for their online series “Kids React”).

Michelle Phan earned $3 million offering makeup tutorials (and launched a cosmetic line); comedians Rhett & Link (Rhett McLaughlin and Charles Lincoln Neal III) have sponsored deals with Gillette, Toyota and Wendy’s; and British videogame commentator KSI (Olajide Olatunji) used his 11 million YouTube followers to help launch a music career.

Whether it’s Rosanna Pansino with her cooking show (and new cookbook) or dancing violinist Lindsey Stirling who used her YouTube fame to release two albums, score a book deal and launch successful tours — the top YouTube earners have several things in common: They are all young; they all started online; and they are now making the most of their new found fame, whether that still centers on YouTube or also includes more traditional media.

“When YouTube was founded ten years ago, it was with the mission ‘to provide fast and easy video access and the ability to share videos frequently,’” notes Forbes. “Now it can add another: minting young millionaires by the dozen.”