These are the highest-paid YouTube stars of 2015

YouTube Stars Smosh and Michelle Phan on How to Become a Video Celeb
YouTube Stars Smosh and Michelle Phan on How to Become a Video Celeb

YouTube has exploded since it first launched in 2005, becoming the de facto launchpad for the next generation of internet celebrities.

It's no secret that YouTube's biggest stars are using sponsored videos and advertising to make a living on the platform, in addition to just making a name for themselves.

But who on YouTube is getting paid the most?

Forbes just published its look at which YouTube stars make the most money. The publication based its rankings on raw, pre-tax estimates of earnings that are derived from "data from Nielsen, IMDB, and other sources, as well as on interviews with agents, managers, lawyers, industry insiders, and the stars themselves."

Forbes says most of the YouTube millionaires on its list get paid through ads, previews, and sponsored videos. Some of the people on its list also have their own side businesses and book deals.

8. (tie) Rosanna Pansino


Income:$2.5 million

Rosanna Pansino has the nerdiest baking channel on YouTube — and also the most popular of any baking channel on the platform, period. Pansino's "Nerdy Nummies" channel puts a nerdy spin on normal recipes, including videos for food creations like "Pi Pie Pops" and "Princess Peach Cobbler."

8. (tie) Roman Atwood


Income:$2.5 million

Roman Atwood's prank-filled YouTube channel almost seems more in line with the humor you'd typically see from any number of massively popular Vine stars. Atwood was recently dubbed YouTube's "most appalling prankster" — he's pretended to kill his own toddler twice, to film his girlfriend's reaction. He's also filmed many less horrifying prank videos for his channel.

8. (tie) Lilly Singh


Income: $2.5 million

Lilly Singh does everything from comedy sketches to music videos on her one-woman YouTube channel. Singh also has a YouTube star nickname — Superwoman — and a rabid fan base. Her videos have also landed her on the Collective Digital Studio network, which has more than 700 channels of creators.

7. Michelle Phan

Stefanie Keenan Photography

Income: $3 million

Michelle Phan is a 27-year-old YouTube sensation with more than 7.5 million subscribers. Besides simply filming her own makeup and hair tutorial videos, Phan is launching her own online lifestyle video network. She also cofounded subscription makeup delivery startup Ipsy in 2011 with Marcelo Camberos, who was formerly an executive at Funny or Die, and Jennifer Goldfarb, a Goldman Sachs analyst turned executive at makeup company Bare Escentuals. Ipsy recently raised a $100 million round of funding.

5. (tie) KSI

VICE screenshot

Income: $4.5 million

As a teenager, Olajide "KSI" Olatunji played EA Sports' line of FIFA video games for hours on end in his parents' home. In 2009, he began uploading footage of himself playing and commentating to YouTube, under the username KSIOlajidebt: a combination of a Halo franchise clan, his first name, and "British Telecom."

5. (tie) Rhett & Link

Rhett and Link

Income: $4.5 million

Rhett McLaughlin and Charles Lincoln Neal III are a little old for the YouTube star demographic — they're 38 and 37 years old — but they're insanely well known on the video platform. Rhett and Link are best known for making hilarious local-style ads for real companies, like Ojai Valley Taxidermy and Red House Furniture, and they've gotten sponsorship from big brands for many of their videos.

4. Lindsey Stirling

Lindsey Stirling

Income: $6 million

Lindsey Stirling couldn't get signed to a big record label in 2007, so she started posting her videos to YouTube. The classically trained violinist became known for her violin renditions of hip-hop songs. In 2010, Stirling wound up on Fox's "America's Got Talent," where she was known as the hip-hop violinist. She is now often referred to as the "Skrillex of classical music."

2. (tie) The Fine Brothers

Fine Brothers/YouTube

Income: $8.5 million

Brooklyn natives Benny and Rafi Fine are two online producer/writer/directors who created the extremely successful React video series. In React's various iterations (Kids React, Teens React, Elders React, and YouTubers React), The Fine Brothers show viral videos to subjects and film their reactions. The duo has been sponsored by both Ford and Comedy Central. Many consider The Fine Brothers to be two of the first YouTube stars.

2. (tie) Smosh

Melly Lee/Courtesy of DEFY Media

Income: $8.5 million

Smosh is a comedy duo consisting of YouTube veterans Ian Hecox and Anthony Padilla. Smosh was one of the first YouTube sensations, becoming well known for the duo's slapstick comedy videos that parody video games and pop culture. The duo has shown no signs of slowing down, opening up multiple channels and an app for their content.

1. PewDiePie


Income: $12 million

Felix Arvid Ulf Kjelberg is a foul-mouthed Swedish video-game commentator who has absolutely dominated YouTube over the past year. Kjelberg's videos show him playing various video games while a box in the top corner of the screen shows his reactions to what is happening. Many attribute his success to the attention he pays to his fans — Kjelberg spends lots of time talking about them, answering their questions in the YouTube comments section, and forming a community of "bros."

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