It takes some balls to go and offer quality images like yours for free. I see definite benefits to do so in terms of exposure and reach. I also see how it can disrupt the notion of value regarding licensing rights for your images.
Within my agency I do manage illustration’s rights of usage of my archives in order to generate passive revenue and it does bring interesting money (pure profit), great exposure and good US market penetration (I’m based in Canada.)
There’s also a difference between micro stock (complete crap) and high-end licensing deals (value-based). Done correctly, you can generate great revenue and contribute to a high-value reputation and brand image that can generate additional quality leads.
I think as of now (not necessarily 5 years from now), the lost money due to Apple and other “clients” using your images for free is far greater to the leads it generated despite the ROI of the reach and exposure these high-level clients brought at the present time.
Bringing some comparative hard data during the following years could make this a super interesting case!
Also, long-term wise, depending on Patreon is not a business model and your business will suffer from a lack of strategy — you now have great reach and awareness, this is potential money and you must do something with it. I’m sure you can find a way to keep offering your picture for free and generate revenue so you can scale without charity.