Ryan Kaji, 9, earns $29.5m as this year's highest-paid YouTuber

Ryan’s World ‘child influencer’ also made estimated $200m from branded toys and clothing

A nine-year-old boy has made nearly $30m in a year from “unboxing” and reviewing toys and games on YouTube to hold the title of highest-paid YouTuber for the third year running.

Ryan Kaji, from Texas, made $29.5m (£22m) from his YouTube channel Ryan’s World, as well as a further estimated $200m from Ryan’s World branded toys and clothing, including Marks & Spencer pyjamas. He also signed an undisclosed, but likely multimillion dollar, deal for his own TV series on Nickelodeon.

Kaji, who is described as a “child influencer”, first began making YouTube videos in March 2015 after watching other toy review channels and asking his mother, “How come I’m not on YouTube when all the other kids are?

His family – who changed their real surname, Guan, to his on-screen surname, Kaji – now run nine YouTube channels. Ryan’s World was the most popular with 41.7m subscribers and 12.2bn views. Kaji’s most popular video, Huge Eggs Surprise Toys Challenge, has more than 2bn views, making it one of the 60 most-viewed videos ever on YouTube.

However, Kaji and his family are now facing the threat of a US Federal Trade Commission investigation over allegations that videos’ sponsors are not properly disclosed. “Nearly 9% of the Ryan ToysReview videos have included at least one paid product recommendation aimed at preschoolers, a group too young to distinguish between a commercial and a review,” a complaint from the consumer watchdog, Truth In Advertising, said. “These advertisements often depict unhealthy foods.”

Benjamin Burroughs, an assistant professor of journalism and media studies at University of Nevada, Las Vegas, who studies emerging and social media trends, warned that there was a danger that other children were “being targeted by child influencers in ways that parents may not be cognisant of or aware of.”

Ryan's World logo
The most popular video on Ryan’s World, Huge Eggs Surprise Toys Challenge, has more than 2bn views. Photograph: Kaji Family/YouTube

“As a child influencer, [Ryan] is being courted by companies to play with the latest toy so that other children can see it. But now, the child influencer himself has become a brand that is then being put into Walmart, and Target, and Amazon as its own force and influence,” Burroughs said. “It’s pretty shocking.”

Burroughs said he became interested in the child influencer phenomenon after his own kids asked him to do the things that Ryan’s family was doing. “I thought, ‘Oh, there’s something going on here if my kids are expecting our family to look like Ryan’s family.’ In Ryan’s family, they’re able to constantly consume content and products. They’re opening up a new toy every day, and subsequently playing with that new toy every day, so there’s this constant consumerism that’s being embedded within these messages for children.”

In total the top 10 biggest-earning YouTube stars took home a total of $211m, according to the Forbes business magazine, which on Friday published its analysis of their estimated earnings between June 2019 and June 2020.

In second place was Jimmy Donaldson, better known as Mr Beast, who earned an estimated $24m and was the a new entry to the YouTube richlist.

Donaldson, 22, is known for stunts, including freezing himself in ice and giving away huge sums of money to strangers who compete in his challenges. He also makes money from selling merchandise and partnerships with brands such as Microsoft and Electronic Arts.

Reed Duchscher, Donaldson’s manager, said: “The ideas are going to continue to get crazier, and he’s going to continue to spend large amounts of money to up the production quality. I mean, he just tweeted out today that he has all these good ideas that cost $10m. And he’s not wrong. He does.”

Top 10 YouTube earners

1. Ryan Kaji, $29.5m

2. Mr Beast (Jimmy Donaldson), $24m

3. Dude Perfect, $23m: five friends – Coby Cotton, Cory Cotton, Garret Hilbert, Cody Jones and Tyler Toney – play stunts with lightsabers, Nerf Guns and paintballs. In March, when the coronavirus first hit and professional sports were banned, the group’s YouTube channel hosted the Quarantine Classic, in which they competed against each other in three-point basketball shootouts and roller-chair hockey. The series of videos raised about $160,000 for the Red Cross and Feeding America.

4. Rhett and Link, $20m: Rhett James McLaughlin, 43, and Charles Lincoln, 42, are some of the longest-standing YouTube stars, having begun as a nerdy talkshow in 2012.

5. Markiplier, $19.5m: Mark Edward Fischbach has been posting popular breakdowns of video games since 2012, including a 31-part series examining 2013’s Cry of Fear.

6. Preston Arsement, $19m: Preston has hired two dozen people to help him make videos exploring the pixelated world of Minecraft.

7. Nastya, $18.5m: Anastasia Radzinskaya, a six-year-old from Russia, has 191m subscribers to her channel, which features her and her father playing with Lego, doing household chores and explaining viruses.

8. Blippi, $17m: Stevin John, 32, is the only adult creating kids’ content on the list. He stars as Blippi, the brightly dressed, childlike character who educates through videos such as Blippi Visits the Aquarium and Learn Colors with Blippi.

9. David Dobrik, $16m: This 24-year-old is known for his stunts, including driving a convertible through a car wash and shaving someone’s entire body. But Dobrik is trying to move his fans to TikTok.

10. Jeffrey Lynn Steininger, $15m:A former singer who quit the stage to film makeup tutorials on YouTube and launched their own cosmetics range.


Rupert Neate

The GuardianTramp

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