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The highest paid YouTube stars for 2015 made over $54 million last year

YouTube: It’s not just for poor people and out-of-work actors anymore.

The top ten list of highest earning YouTube channels (which includes 13 people in all) combined for an astounding $54 million dollars last year, according to Forbes’ first ever tally of the group. The list includes earnings before management fees and taxes, but even so, that’s a whole lotta cheddar.

It turns out it doesn’t take anything too serious to get rich on the Internet, but it does take being young and/or personable. List-topper Felix Kjellberg (aka PewDiePie), is a 25-year-old Swede who earned an estimated $12 million last year as the most watched video gamer in the world, with about 40 million viewers subscribing to his hilarious (aka annoying?) play-through videos, rife with boisterous comments and Millenial catch-phrases.

But that’s just one way to make millions on YouTube. List toppers like Smosh and the Fine Brothers make comedy shorts, Michelle Phan shoots makeup tutorials, and Rosanna Pansino publishes cooking videos with special guests. The one thing in common: Almost all of the 13 stars are under 30.

As one cruises down the list from the number one spot, earnings fall off from PewDiePie’s high water mark, but not as much as one might think; the bottom three earners still pull in a whopping $2.5 million per year each by Forbes’ estimates.

The biggest thing that sets these stars apart from other members of the YouTube community is total viewership and repeat audiences. YouTube Channel subscriber counts — for members of the list, often in the millions — played a huge role in overall earnings.

That’s because the vast majority of the money flowing into the pockets of YouTube celebrities comes from ads, with top earners charging premium dollars for ad placement during their multi-million view videos, as well as other on-air sponsorships.

Doing extremely well in the YouTube world can lead to successes beyond the Internet, as well. Four members of the list have book deals, and others have retail income coming in via everything from makeup lines to personalized beanies.

Forbes took all of these things into account when calculating the stars’ total earnings, and also looked at sources such as Nielsen data, IMDB information, as well as interviewing industry insiders and the stars themselves.

So, though it might take being young and outgoing to become a top earner on YouTube, the format remains an excellent proving ground for entrepreneurs. YouTube remains an exciting environment where anything that gets views can have earning potential, and the sky’s the limit, it would seem, in terms of income.

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Parker Hall
Former Digital Trends Contributor
Parker Hall is a writer and musician from Portland, OR. He is a graduate of the Oberlin Conservatory of Music in Oberlin…
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