What 2015’s Top Earning YouTubers Tell Us About the Platform

By Evan DeSimone

Forbes has published its official ranking of the top earning YouTube stars on the web, which means today’s headlines will run the gamut from an outraged “PewDiePie earns how much?!” to a more sedate but equally irksome “Did you know people make money on YouTube.”

YouTube’s top creators are raking in millions through a combination of ad revenue, sponsorships, live appearances and licensing, but they’re still not household names in the manner of mainstream stars.

Gamer Felix “Pewdiepie” Kjellberg once again tops the list this year, grossing $12 million on the strength of his more than 40 million subscribers. Two of YouTube’s most recognizable duos, Anthony Padilla and Ian Hecox of Smosh and Benny and Rafi Fine of The Fine Bros, tied for second place, earning $8.5 million each. Violinist and “America’s Got Talent” veteran Lindsey Stirling took fourth place, with $6 million primarily from ad revenue, album sales and touring. Rounding out the list are Rhett and Link, KSI, Michelle Phan, Lilly Singh, Roman Atwood, and Rosanna Pansino.

YouTubers are notoriously tight lipped about their earnings, owing largely to YouTube’s iron clad embargo preventing creators from disclosing their CPMs. There is also concern among many creators that disclosing their millionaire incomes might compromise their relatabiltiy in the eyes of young fans. To compile its list, Forbes used secondary sources including data from Nielsen and IMDB and in person interviews industry players, managers and creators.

Creators topping the list represent a cross section of some of the platform’s most popular verticals, with gaming dominating the field in terms of both scale and growth. However, top tier creators are also drawn from the beauty, lifestyle, food, music and comedy niches, proving that most of YouTube’s verticals have the potential for high level monetization.

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