YouTube rich list: MrBeast was the highest-paid star of 2021

Jimmy Donaldson, the 23-year-old American better known as MrBeast, was YouTube’s highest-earning content creator in 2021, according to Forbes.

His elaborate stunts have generated more than 10 billion views on the platform and earned him $54m (£39m).

He has overtaken 10-year-old toy reviewer Ryan Kaji, who has topped the annual list for the past two years.

Together, the 10 best-paid YouTubers made a combined $300m (£218m) in 2021, the US magazine estimated.

Jake Paul is in second place, his first appearance in the top 10 since 2018, and his brother Logan also returns after being absent since 2017.

Minecraft player Nathan Graham, known as Unspeakable, makes the list for the first time in fifth place.

Jake Paul (left)
Image caption,Jake Paul’s high-profile boxing fights have earned him a spot back on the list

YouTube trends expert Chris Stokel-Walker said this year’s list is interesting because it shows “how stale” YouTube has become. “It strikes me how white and male this whole list is,” he said.

“If you take any of the names and look at previous years’ lists, you’ll probably find them on there as well, just in a different order.”

Boom time

During the pandemic, lots of traditional entertainment media had a difficult time adjusting. Movies were delayed, soap opera schedules were altered and video game releases were postponed.

For YouTube, however, it was a time of boom.

Research suggests that in 2021, the platform had 2.3 billion users worldwide. YouTube says one billion hours of video content is consumed on the platform every day.

Ryan's World YouTube art.
Image caption,Ryan Kaji ranked in seventh position this year

Stokel-Walker said: “YouTube was developed as something that would shake up the media industry and get rid of gatekeepers. It was going to democratise how our society and entertainment industry looks.

“This list suggests that it’s become more like TV than it would prefer to be. The arrival of money on the platform means content is very high stakes – and we see this in what MrBeast is making.

“It’s not really similar to anything else on YouTube. It’s more like big-budget TV.”

Stokel-Walker suggested the high production values of YouTube today are creating a barrier to entry, meaning you need to “pay to play and be successful”.

Seven-year-old Nastya is the only female in the top 10
Image caption,Seven-year-old Nastya is the only female in the top 10

The top earners as identified by Forbes are not necessarily those with the most views, but rather those who have been able to successfully earn money through brand partnerships, sponsorship deals and merchandise sales.

Although it’s estimated that two-thirds of YouTube content is not in the English language, it seems that English-speaking creators are most able to financially capitalise on their popularity.

YouTube, like many other modern media platforms, is dealing with issues of misinformation and harmful content – however this doesn’t seem to have affected its creators’ abilities to attract advertisers and sponsors to their channels.

Here is the full top 10.

10. Preston Arsement

Preston Arsement grew his community largely thanks to videos centred around Minecraft, although he runs several channels on the website.

A regular on this list, he earned an estimated $16m (£11m) in 2021 – down a little from the year before, when he placed sixth.

9. Logan Paul

The controversial boxer and vlogger was last in the top 10 in 2017. He earned $18m (£13m) in 2021.

8. Dude Perfect

Comedy pranksters Dude Perfect was number three on the list in 2020. They made $20m (£14m) last year.

7. Ryan Kaji

The world’s most famous toy reviewer has dropped from the top of the tree to number seven.

In 2021, his blend of toy reviews, educational videos and family vlogs helped him earn $27m (£19m).

6. Nastya

The seven-year-old Russian has nearly 90 million subscribers on YouTube.

She started as a toy unboxer but now her vlogs and music videos are growing in popularity and her earnings have risen to $28m (£20m) in 2021.

5. Unspeakable

A new entry, the Minecraft player has been uploading to YouTube for a decade.

He sold the rights to his back catalogue to the business Spotter last year, which contributed to his earnings of $28.5m (£20m).

A staple of the YouTube highest earning list, the hosts of geek chat show Good Mythical Morning earned $30m (£22m) in 2021.

3. Markiplier

Another regular gaming creator, Markiplier has used his business acumen to make a successful brand of merchandise, earning $38m (£27m) last year.

2. Jake Paul

By branching out into boxing, Jake Paul has found himself back in the top 10. His high-profile fights against UFC stars helped him earn $45m (£32m) in 2021.

It’s some turnaround for the creator who was criticised alongside his bother for some of their vlogs in 2017, which many found to be in poor taste.

With more boxing plans in the pipeline for 2022, it would be no surprise to see him keep his place among YouTube’s elite on next year’s list.

1. MrBeast

YouTube’s top earner is a creator who uses stunts and pranks to delight his audience.

Last year, he recreated elements of Netflix hit Squid Game on his channel, played hide and seek in an 80,000-seater stadium and was buried underground.

His 10 billion views, alongside the MrBeast burger franchise, meant Jimmy Donaldson almost doubled his income in 2021 after ranking second on this list the previous year.

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