What many affiliate marketers do is find their niche in the market. This allows them to be focused on specific products or merchants, which lets them gain loyal followers and build a reputation that reflects expertise on a particular subject. After all, you as a consumer will most likely take the word of a person who has reviewed all kinds of vehicles as opposed to someone who reviews everything from sports cars to lemonade to fertilizer.
It sounds like you have a good system going and you are correct, they both do take a lot of work. Most people will not have the time to put up hundreds of affiliate sites and stores. Given that you are comparing one affiliate site versus one dropshipped store, they both should take a similar amount of time to rank in the search engines. The advantage of the dropshipped store is that you won’t be completely dependent on SEO. If Google were to all of a sudden tank your website for your keywords (this has happened to me on several occasions), then you still have a solid customer base and word of mouth that will get you new customers.
Before we dive deep, let's clear off one fact: both are perfectly viable business models. They both comprise checkered pasts of spammy misuse and high-quality effort. The difference is in their setup and infrastructure. Also, how you approach to manage your created business. It depends a lot on how much elbow grease you put in, and which model seems preferable to you.
Unlike most offline marketing efforts, digital marketing allows marketers to see accurate results in real time. If you've ever put an advert in a newspaper, you'll know how difficult it is to estimate how many people actually flipped to that page and paid attention to your ad. There's no surefire way to know if that ad was responsible for any sales at all.