How Web stars make money -- lots of it

Swedish video game commentator Felix Kjellberg, aka PewDiePie, gestures as he arrives to attend the Singapore Social Star Awards on May 23, 2013. File. ROSLAN RAHMAN/AFP/Getty Images

Surfing the Web and playing on social media have become clichéd synonyms for wasting time. But some people have turned their posting and networking skills into tools for making some serious money.

For example, YouTube (GOOG) lets people create and upload videos of all sorts. For most people, it's a hobby. But get enough followers and the channel owner can apply to become a YouTube Partner, which means they can get 55 percent of the ad revenue that comes in from their posts.

Knowing from the outside exactly what the ads pay, and what percentage of someone's posts run them, is impossible. But Business Insider took a crack earlier this year to estimate the annual earnings for some of YouTube's top stars, based on popularity statistics from analytics site SocialBlade. They largely include people focused either on comedy, video game commentary, or toys -- or a cross between them. Here are some of the likely top earning YouTube channels:

  • PewDiePie -- With 27.6 million subscribers, this Swedish video game commentator could pull in between $825,000 and $8.5 million.
  • BluCollection Disney Toys! -- The unidentified person opens, assembles, and reviews toys. Although the number of subscribers is "only" 775,872, there have been about 1.6 billion page views, which translates to between $660,000 and $6.4 million in annual income.
  • TheFineBros -- Two Brooklyn brothers often show people reacting to viral videos, although they do have a video giving a 7 minute recap of the entire first season of "Orange Is the New Black." It's comedy. The estimate for them is upwards of $2.4 million annually. No wonder funny and money rhyme.

One YouTube phenom known as Jenna Marbles went from difficulty patching together $800 a month for her share of a three-bedroom apartment in Cambridge, Mass. to renting a $1.1 million Santa Monica, Ca. townhouse.

YouTube stars have even moved into real life, appearing at events and catching the attention of publishers, agents, and TV networks.

YouTube not your style? Fear not, as other social media get "monetized." Ex-law student Robby Ayala, who literally has a career based on 2.6 million people who follow his six-second videos on Vine, has made promotional videos for companies. Top image performers on Instagram, now part of Facebook, also get courted by traditional media.

But before you invest in a webcam and start counting the cash, realize that the path to success is long and difficult. People start by doing something they enjoy. Even after they start to gain significant attention, they must do a lot of work to build enough of an audience to make companies with money pay attention. Then there are all the competitors, each wanting the same attention. Just as in real life, overnight success isn't quite what it seems in the virtual world.

  • Erik Sherman On Twitter»

    Erik Sherman is a widely published writer and editor who also does select ghosting and corporate work. The views expressed in this column belong to Sherman and do not represent the views of CBS Interactive. Follow him on Twitter at @ErikSherman or on Facebook.

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