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UPDATED May 31, 2017 — We first published this list at the end of 2015, and naturally, a lot has changed since then. YouTube has over 1.5 billion users, and YouTube recently announced that the number of channels with 1 million or more subscribers is up 75%. In order to keep this list as accurate as possible, we’ve updated it to reflect the top 10 highest paid YouTubers for 2017. Most of the same names that appeared on this list in 2015 are still on it today, but there are a few new additions and a few YouTubers no longer ranked among the top ten. We’ve preserved the text from the original article, highlighting any updates, and tracking changes in metrics in order to get a better long-term view of the landscape of richest YouTubers.
Launched in 2005, internet juggernaut YouTube presented content creators (commonly called “YouTubers“) with an entirely new opportunity to produce videos for large, engaged audiences. Since then, the platform has earned attention for its impact on pop culture and its effect on the marketing landscape. The changes to the latter have been so pronounced, in fact, that Forbes published their first list of top-grossing YouTube stars in October 2015 to illustrate the commercial viability of social media stars for both brands and consumers. Today, these top YouTube content creators have become mainstream celebrities in their own right and made millions in the process.
While there are a number of ways top YouTubers can monetize their reach and leverage their loyal social followings, most top YouTuber stars make money from video advertisements (usually pre-roll ads served at the start of each video), brand deal sponsorships, or collaborations (e.g. sponsored videos, YouTube product placements, partnerships with YouTube MCNs), affiliate commissions, and/or selling their own merchandise.
Swedish-born Felix Kjellberg—a.k.a. PewDiePie—has garnered much attention for being the world’s richest YouTuber. Kjellberg’s gaming channel features primarily Let’s Play YouTube videos and boasts over 44 million subscribers worldwide. In addition to being a prominent gamer, Kjellberg is also a spokesperson for YouTube (he appears on many of the company’s billboards) and recently broke into the mainstream by appearing on The Late Show with Stephen Colbert. His salary is reported to be about $12 million annually.
Recently, with the launch of YouTube Red (YouTube’s subscription service), PewDiePie polled his Twitter audience to see just how many of his millennial audiences use ad blockers—see his poll finds here.
UPDATE — PewDiePie’s subscriber count is now over 54 million and his annual income is estimated at $15 million. He’s also recently been the subject of controversy following anti-semitic remarks and sentiments in several of his videos.
Starring in the prank movie Natural Born Pranksters, which was released on April Fool’s Day, Roman Atwood both directed and starred in (along with other notable YouTube pranksters VitalyzdTV and Dennis Roady) the well-received feature film. An Ohio native, Atwood frequently features his family and friends in many of his pranks. His recent sponsored video with Nissan resulted in a Streamy Award win in 2015.
UPDATE — Roman Atwood also saw massive gains across his channels between 2015 and 2017. He went from earning $2.5 million in 2015 to $8 million, making him the second highest paid YouTuber.
Hailing from Toronto, Canadian YouTuber Lilly Singh rose to mainstream prominence with her ethnically-themed parody videos. In 2015, Singh (better known as “IISuperwomanII”) embarked on her global tour, entitled A Trip To Unicorn Island, and subsequently released a documentary of her experience on YouTube Red. Singh has won multiple awards for her work, including MTV’s 2014 Fandom Award “Social Superstar Of The Year” and a 2015 Streamy Award for “Best First Person.”
UPDATE — Lilly Singh saw huge gains across her social channels between 2015 and 2017, but perhaps the most significant boost was in estimated earnings, which jumped from $2.5 million in 2015 to $7.5 million in 2017, making her the third highest paid YouTuber.
Comedy duo Smosh consists of Anthony Padilla and Ian Hecox. The two create parody and satire videos for YouTube, and their sketch-based comedy sensibility clearly strikes a chord with a large audience—their channel has garnered 22 million subscribers to date. Padilla and Hecox were among the first YouTube celebrities to earn wax statues at Madame Tussaud’s and have consistently been named as two of the most popular celebrities with teen audiences in polls. Recently, the two announced that they would head up a new YouTube series. With annual earnings of $8.5 million, they tie for second place among the top 10 richest YouTubers.
UPDATE — Though Smosh is still in the top 10, Padilla and Hecox no longer hold the #2 spot. Their annual income is estimated at $7 million and all of their social channels show conservative growth.
In the spirit of YouTube DIYs, how-to’s, and video tutorials, self-taught cook Rosanna Pansino recently published her first cookbook, The Nerdy Nummies Cookbook: Sweet Treats For The Geek In All Of Us (based on her popular YouTube series by the same name). Inspired by her grandmother, Pansino began her YouTube career by sharing recipes, tips, and tricks on baking themed treats (as exemplified in her Frozen-themed baking video above).
UPDATE — Jumping up from #10 in 2015, Rosanna Pansino saw major boosts during 2016.
Perhaps one of the most recognizable YouTubers in America, Tyler Oakley makes the richest YouTubers list for the first time this year. Particularly noted for his humor, confessional and sincere vlogging style, and activism within the LGBTQ community, Oakley has consistently used his platform to draw attention social issues. He’s also authored a book (titled “Binge”) hosts The Tyler Oakley Show on ellentube, Ellen DeGeneres’s digital platform.
One of the top gaming YouTubers, Mark Fischbach (Markiplier) has now joined the ranks of the most highly paid YouTubers, too. Known for his genuine, humorous persona and tone, Markiplier covers a wide variety of games (typically in the Let’s Play style) but occasionally does vlogs and comedic shorts, too. He’s also collaborated with other top YouTubers, particularly in the gaming space.
Chilean YouTuber Germán Garmendia is an author, musician, and comedian. He has two YouTube channels (HolaSoyGerman and JuegaGerman) with nearly 50 million followers between them. Having written a book (called “#Chupaelperro”), recorded a number of songs with his band, and voiced a character in the Spanish language version of the most recent Ice Age film, Garmendia still uploads videos regularly and averages millions of views per video.
Yet another comedy duo to top our list of top 10 richest YouTubers, Rhett & Link are self-proclaimed “internetainers.” The pair makes funny music videos, sketches, and ridiculous local commercials, as well as a weekly talk show called Good Mythical Morning. Rhett & Link are responsible for a number of viral videos in recent years, and also run a television show on the IFC Network. Earning $4.5 million annually, Rhett & Link are YouTube’s fifth highest-paid stars.
UPDATE — Falling to #9, Rhett and Link saw growth across all of their channels and a modest increase in estimated earnings, but it wasn’t quite enough to keep them in top half of the top 10 list.
Perhaps better known as her comedic online alter ego Miranda Sings, Colleen Ballinger has been creating videos for YouTube since 2008. Her Channel (Miranda Sings) has over 7.5 million subscribers, and as she’s grown in popularity, she’s leveraged her following to take her work offline. With live shows, podcasts, and a Netflix original series called Haters Back Off!, Colleen Ballinger’s fame and influence extends far beyond YouTube.
Like Smosh, The Fine Brothers are a comedy duo (comprised of brothers Benny and Rafi) who make pranks and sketch videos. In addition to earning a massive audience of nearly 14 million subscribers, The Fine Bros. YouTube channel recently attracted attention for their six-minute recap of the newest Star Wars film. With earnings of $8.5 million a year, these top YouTubers are some of the most successful content creators on the platform.
UPDATE — No longer in the top 10, The Fine Brothers have seen a fair amount of controversy over the last couple of years. Most of their channels show growth, save for a slight drop-off in Twitter followers.
Lindsey Stirling first gained recognition on her YouTube channel, which featured videos of herself playing the violin and dancing. After her talents helped her acquire a following of nearly 8 million YouTube subscribers, the 29-year-old was named one of Forbes’ Top 30 Musicians Under 30, became a quarter-finalist on the talent competition America’s Got Talent, and found a place on the Billboard Charts for her 2014 album Shatter Me. With an income of $6 million per year, Stirling is YouTube’s third-highest-paid star.
UPDATE — Lindsey Stirling’s shown significant growth across all channels, but isn’t in the most recent top 10 list, perhaps because the threshold is higher in 2017 than it was in 2015.
Multi-talented YouTube star Olajide Olatunji (also known as KSI) is known for his gaming, gaming commentary, music videos, and prank videos (which often featuring his younger brother, ComedyShortsGamer, also a top YouTube star). After finding success through his gaming videos, KSI launched his music career and has produced several singles to be featured on UK music charts.
UPDATE — Despite gains across channels, KSI fell out of the top 10 in 2017.
Michelle Phan is a content creator and entrepreneur known for pioneering fashion and beauty content on YouTube. With a very distinct and artful aesthetic, her channel currently has a global audience of over 8.5 million subscribers and her videos have been viewed more than 1.2 billion times. Not only is she an award-winning content creator, she’s also an entrepreneur with her own makeup line (“em by Michelle Phan”) and a monthly beauty subscription service called Ipsy.
UPDATE — Though she saw growth on Twitter and YouTube, Michelle Phan actually lost page likes and followers on Facebook and Instagram and is no longer listed in the top 10.